In Cairo Speech, Obama Seeks ‘New Beginning’ for U.S., Muslim World

“We meet at a time of great tension between the United
States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that
go beyond any current policy debate,” the president told an invited
audience of 3,000 at Cairo University.

“I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning
between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual
interest and mutual respect,” he said. “America and Islam are not
exclusive, and need not be in competition.”

Listen to President Obama’s full address:

The president’s speech was seen as an effort to restore the
image of the U.S. — weakened by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and
controversy over the treatment of detainees — among many of the more than 1
billion Muslims around the world.

The president outlined seven issues he considered key to the
dialogue between the Muslim world and the West: violent extremism, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom,
women’s rights and economic development.

Mr. Obama said the actions of violent extremist Muslims are
“irreconcilable with the rights of human beings,” and quoted the Koran
to make his point.

“Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent
extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace,” he said.

In a reference to his personal story, the president noted
that while he is a Christian, his father had come from a Kenyan family that
“includes generations of Muslims.” President Obama weaved references
to the Bible, Koran and the Talmud into his address — he quoted the Koran as
commanding: “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.”

“Much has been made of the fact that an
African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president.
But my personal story is not so unique,” he said.

“The dream of opportunity for all people has not come
true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our
shores — that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today
who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than the American average.”

President Obama said the U.S. and Islam share a long
history, noting that Morocco was the first country to recognize U.S.
independence. He also invoked the words of John Adams, who wrote, “The
United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion
or tranquility of Muslims” while signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796.

Mr. Obama also touted that every U.S. state has a mosque and
the country has more than 1,200 within its borders. He also said the government
has fought to permit females to wear the hijab, or head covering, and punish
anyone who does not allow it.

“Let there be no doubt, Islam is a part of America,”
President Obama said.

In a reference to his break with Bush administration policy,
the president also included a pledge that no country should try to impose a
system of government on another nation.

President Obama said he has a commitment to governments
“that reflect the will of the people.” And yet, he said, “No
system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any

On the topic of women’s rights, President Obama said that a woman
who is denied an education is denied equality, adding that nations with better
educated women are far more likely to prosper. He said he respects women who live
in traditional roles, but that must be their choice.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. would partner with “any
Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help
young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live
their dreams.”

Portions of his speech were punctuated by loud bursts of
applause from the audience. The address fulfills a campaign promise the
president made last year to deliver an address from a Muslim capital early in
his administration, in an effort to changing the tone of relations.

The White House told news agencies that President Obama’s
speech contained no new policy proposals on the Middle East, and he issued an
evenhanded call to Israel and Palestinians alike to live up to their international

President Obama called the U.S. bond with Israel
“unbreakable,” but he also said “the situation for the
Palestinian people is intolerable.”

“The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to
distract the people of Arab nations from other problems,” he said.
“Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people
develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel’s
legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the

He also acknowledged that Hamas enjoys “support”
among the Palestinian people, but called on the group to end to violence and
recognize Israel’s right to exist.

On Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Obama said the U.S. has no
intention of keeping its troops in Afghanistan and America seeks no permanent
military bases there and called for Iraq to be returned to the Iraqi people.

“America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge
a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the
Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or
resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own,” the president said.

In advance of his speech Thursday, President Obama met with
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and toured the city’s Sultan Hassan Mosque.

According to media reports, the streets of Cairo were nearly
deserted due to a security lockdown for the U.S. president’s visit with many
workers being advised to stay home.

The New York Times reported that Mr. Obama’s entire visit
was being televised on Egypt’s state-run television, something U.S. diplomatic
officials pushed for in an effort to ensure the president’s speech reached
beyond those invited to hear the address.

Saudi Arabia marked the first stop on of the president’s
five-day trip through the Middle East and Europe. President Obama and met with
Saudi King Abdullah to discuss a range of issues including Iran’s nuclear
program, spikes in oil prices and Arab-Israeli peace efforts.

Shortly after the president arrived in Saudi Arabia, Al Jazeera
television aired a recording apparently released by al-Qaida leader Osama bin
Laden in which he said Mr. Obama had planted new seeds for “revenge and
hatred” by pressuring Pakistan to crack down on militants in the Swat valley.