U.S. President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. His next stop, in Egypt, will feature a highly-anticipated speech in Cairo.
The impending speech has generated controversy over everything from choosing the authoritarian state as a location to what the president may say about Israel and the Palestinians.
But as Worldfocus partner Link TV’s Mosaic program reports, Egyptians are working hard to make their capital picture perfect, right down to the street level.
Below, Worldfocus contributing bloggers break down what may come from Obama’s speech.
Michael A. Cohen and Brian Katulis of World Politics Review examine the signficance of Obama’s forthcoming speech.
Obama in Egypt: A Vision for Democracy Promotion
President Barack Obama’s historic address to the Muslim world in Cairo tomorrow offers a prime opportunity to outline a new U.S. vision for democracy and human rights in the region. To accomplish this goal, Obama must firmly reject the notion that safeguarding America’s strategic interests in the Middle East somehow runs counter to the goal of advancing political reform. Instead he must craft a balanced message that recognizes that reform is synonymous with U.S. interests in the region.
Unfortunately, if early signs are any indication, the president seems to be striking the wrong balance. The delayed appointments of key democracy promotion and human rights officials — including the administrator for the Agency of International Development and the assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor — suggest that the issue is simply not a high priority.
Policy statements and decisions by top officials are sending a more disturbing signal. In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that China’s adherence to global human rights standards, or lack thereof, can’t interfere with larger economic and security concerns. The administration has even acceded to Egyptian demands that economic assistance not be used to support civil society groups and has slashed funds for democracy promotion by 60 percent. The Obama administration seems to be falling into the same trap that has plagued U.S. foreign policy for decades: placing short-term strategic concerns above the long-term imperative to press for reform.
In fairness, Obama has offered a broad and progressive approach to the Middle East aimed at tackling the region’s most intractable challenges. In his first overseas interview with Al Arabiya and his historic address in Turkey, Obama signaled that the United States would do more listening and less dictating in the region.
But it is not enough to engage with the region’s often unaccountable and autocratic leaders. Obama must also reach out to those advocating for change. The right words from a new American president can have a powerful impact on the cause of political reform in the Middle East. Of course, given America’s stained image and complicated strategic interests in the region, striking the proper balance is often easier said than done.
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