Many Muslims Saw Hope, Change in Obama’s Cairo Speech

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Washington — “The speech gave me hope that change can happen, especially by collaboration and by seeing common ground and interest,” 19-year-old Ingy Hassieb said. The Egyptian college student reflected on the words he had heard when the new American president, Barack Obama, came to Cairo with the call to initiate “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims.”

President Obama chose to make a speech to Muslims around the world from the historic campus of Cairo University on June 4, keeping a pledge he had made during his presidential campaign. Reaching across the world by every means that a technological age offers, Obama delivered a 55-minute speech that was interrupted 42 times by applause from the more than 3,000 people jammed into the university’s Great Hall. The speech was co-hosted by Al-Azhar University and Cairo University.

“For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I’m grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I’m also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum,” Obama said in his opening remarks.

Speaking of President Obama’s call for change in the often strained relationship with Muslims worldwide, Hassieb said that “even if it is a slow process, it is not impossible,” according to news reports.

For Jordanian student Sulafah Al Shami, Obama’s speech offered a glimpse of America she had not seen before and one that she found “refreshing.”

“It is great to see an American president advocating world diplomacy and partnership instead of reinforcing the image of America as an overpowering superpower who everybody should submit to,” Al Shami said, according to a New York Times news report.

Dhaka University political science professor Shariful Islam in Bangladesh told that it is a “charismatic speech by a charismatic world leader, Barack Obama, who leaves the most influence on human hearts across the globe. This is an overwhelming desire on the part of the [United States] to truly address a difficult issue” in improving relations between Muslims and the United States.

Samura Atallah, a 20-year-old Palestinian, said the section of the speech dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process “was moderate and tailored to both sides; a child, whether Palestinian or Israeli, has every right to a decent life.”

Tarek Ali, a 44-year-old government driver in Cairo, said he did not expect Obama to go as far as he did in seeking to change the climate between Muslims and the United States. “He really seems to want to move forward,” Ali said, according to the Washington Post. Ahmed Abdullah, a communications worker in Baghdad, said it was the first time he had seen a U.S. president speaking so directly and plainly to Muslims.

One of the points the president emphasized in his speech was a desire to break down old stereotypes. “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire,” the president said.

In the Palestinian Territories, a Bethlehem mother, Raheeda Hamad, told Time magazine that she approved of the president’s message of a global partnership and the necessity for equal education for women. Nablus University political scientist and Islamic scholar Abdul Sattar Qasim said, “His speech was very close to the heart. He has a way of speaking directly to the people, something other leaders have forgotten.”

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