CAIRO: While American press coverage of President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world on June 4 has highlighted his efforts to improve relations with Muslims worldwide, the choice to deliver the speech from Egypt has garnered much speculation about what critics perceive as tacit support for autocratic regimes in the Middle East.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Jon Alterman said, “Many people look at Egypt and see one of the more severely authoritarian countries in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, reporting by The Washington Post and the New York Times has emphasized the concern of human rights and democracy advocates about Egypt’s record of harassing and detaining political opposition.
Scott Wilson and Anne E. Kornblut of The Washington Post write, “US support for Mubarak and other unelected Arab leaders has been interpreted across the Middle East as a hypocritical element of American foreign policy, particularly in the past eight years, during which the Bush administration made promoting democracy the centerpiece of its diplomacy in the region.
On the other hand, Egypt was also judged by many to be the ideal location for Obama’s speech: with a population of about 80 million, Egypt is the traditional intellectual hub of the Arab world as well as a place where Obama can reach out to the Muslim world’s disaffected youth.
In his interview with the Los Angeles Times, Alterman noted that Egypt was instrumental in shaping the direction of Islam and security threats against the US.
On his part, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “[Egypt] in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world, and I think it will be a terrific opportunity for the president to address and discuss our relationship with the Muslim world.
Gibbs has also dodged criticism about Egypt’s record on democracy and human rights by maintaining that the President would have the opportunity to discuss these issues more in-depth during the trip.