The Daily Beast
On Thursday, President Obama will make his much-anticipated address to the Muslim world with the aim of forging a new relationship with a part of the world that was all too often demonized by the Bush administration’s destructive and counterproductive “war on terrorism” rhetoric. But in choosing Cairo as the setting for his historic speech, Obama has made a grave mistake, one that could conceivably make this entire event a fruitless exercise. In fact, it just may confirm the prediction of Obama’s fiercest critics in the region, who are already decrying this speech as nothing more than a photo op.
No doubt Obama chose Egypt to highlight its growing role as a mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the simple fact is that Egypt is hardly “the Muslim world.” Indeed, the Muslim world now exists primarily on the margins of the Middle East. Arabs especially make up an increasingly tiny fraction of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims (about 10 percent, according to some estimates). There are now more Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa than there are Arabs of any religion. Of the top 10 most populous Muslim nations in the world, only one (Egypt) is Arab, and it comes near the end of the list. Egypt may be a strategic ally of the U.S., not to mention the second-largest recipient of American aid, but its importance is strictly regional, and this was not billed as an address to the Middle East but to the Muslim world.
Obama should have chosen Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, a moderate, pluralistic, wildly successful democratic country whose citizens just last month overwhelming voted for secular and moderate Muslim parties over the country’s more radical Islamist groups. Instead, by choosing Cairo as the backdrop to his speech, Obama has in effect rewarded Egypt’s president for life, Hosni Mubarak, for his bloody, blatantly anti-democratic, and dictatorial rule.
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