Should it be Cairo?

Supposedly, Obama wants to give_a_speech  in an Islamic capital during his first 100 days:

See? It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected.

1) I agree that if the idea is to repair US-Muslim relations than the speech has to be in a city that is seen as having some Islamic relevance but also matters politically.  Cairo is one of the few that fits that requirement. 

2) On the other hand, its unclear whether, politically, Egyptians, from both the regime and the opposition would actually want the US President to visit.  US-Egypt relations is very sensitive and I suspect, though few would say it explicitly, most parties would rather avoid having the US President visit.  There is a reason the US President hasn’t visited Cairo since….. when?  Did Clinton ever actually visit Cairo?  Was Jimmy Carter the last?  And no visiting the isolated conference center at Sharm Al-Shaikh doesn’t count as visiting Egypt.

9 Responses

  1. Why not Damascus or Baghdad, that have deeper Islamic heritage ?

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    I guess it depends on how you define “heritage.” I’m not really sure I would agree with that. It seems to me that Cairo has as deep an Islamic heritage but contemporarilym given that it is the seat of Al-Azhar, I dont think there is any comparison between the Islamic signifigance of Cairo vs Dam or Bag.

    Also, no President would go to Damascus. At least not yet. Baghdad, maybe, but Im not sure he would get the same effect.

  3. Also if the US President gave a speech in Baghdad, he’d either be assassinated or it would be seen as a symbol of American dominance over Iraq.

  4. good point about baghdad. it would be seen exactly that, as more american intentions to dominate iraq. plus bush gave several speeches from Iraq anyway so there’s nothing particulurily new.

    to get the “repair US-Muslim relations” effect it cant be Baghdad. It has to be one of the “Muslim” countries which saw itself as overlooked during the last couple years.

    going to damascus might get the most effect. i just cant see it happening anytime soon. at least not in the first 100 days.

  5. Nice blog!

    The place of Damascus in the question of Islamic heritage is unique: as the capital of the Omayads, under whose empire Islam spread at a vertiginous rate, it remains a place of great significance with regards to the study of Islam (and its various schools, including Sufism), Al Azhar notwithstanding.

    Politically, of course, it’s not going to happen, and I agree that Baghdad would have the opposite effect of that intended.

    For symbolism, even though it’s not a capital, I think Istanbul sits just at the right place.

  6. I don’t think Istanbul would be even remotely as groundbreaking as Cairo. It’s just not “dangerous” enough! There has to be an element of risk to the location of this speech. Cairo is at the perfect spot on the spectrum between risky but not suicidally dangerous.

  7. Reem and Blackstar,
    There’s no doubt that Syria has a unique and deep Islamic heritage.

    I agree with Blackstar that a visit to Istanbul isnt going to bring the same effect. Turkey doesn’t considered itself grieved like the Arab countries do. Secondly, Turkey is considered a secular country. Even if ruled by “Islamists” a good chunk of the Islamists in the Arab world consider them fake Islamists or Islamists in name only. so its not clear how much capital there is to be gained in the “improving US-Muslim relations” department from visiting Turkey.

    If he’s going to do it at all, then I think it has to be done in the Arab world. This is the region that believes it has grievances with USFP the most. So it has to be either Damascus (but thats not politically possible now, nor is it clearly safe).

    So that leaves Cairo but its not clear whether this is even possible. The relationship with the US is a love-hate one at best. The key op-ed writers in Egyptian papers have been calling for greater indpendence from the US not a strengtehned relationship with it. So its not clear whether this visit is even wanted in Egypt. There’s a reason why a US President hasnt visited since Carter (if im correct)

  8. […] Arab Media Shack has made some interesting comments concerning this idea over the last month. On 4 December, on the occasion of an NYT article by Helene Cooper arguing for Cairo, he concurred because of the […]

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