Obama Cairo Speech Energizes Students

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What was the Obama Cairo speech about? Why did Obama give this speech and what were its effects?

The Obama Cairo speech was delivered at Cairo University. The speech touched on human rights, religious tolerance and more.

Read more about Obama, the Cairo speech, and what it meant.

Obama Addresses the Muslim World in the Cairo Speech

Part of the broader reset on counterterrorism involved renewed outreach to the Muslim world. The centerpiece of this outreach was a speech, titled “A New Beginning,” delivered by Obama on June 4, 2009 at Cairo University. Obama tasked speechwriter Ben Rhodes, a young and idealistic foreign policy staffer (who frequently clashed with more conservative, establishment figures in the foreign policy community) with drafting the historic address.

The speech addressed long-simmering tensions between the West (and the U.S. in particular) and the Muslim world—from the Israel-Palestine conflict to the 1979 Iranian Revolution to the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Obama told it in his speech, both sides bore responsibility for the mutual distrust, with the Muslim general public largely believing the U.S. to be a hostile imperial power and Americans remaining largely ignorant of Islam. In the speech, Obama spoke harsh truths to both sides, chiding Muslim leaders for their continued aggression toward Israel, while acknowledging the problematic legacy of America’s interference in Middle East politics and its support for repressive, dictatorial regimes.

He spoke of the need for a greater embrace of human rights, religious tolerance, and democracy in the Middle East and a rejection of the politics of extremism. The choice of venue in Egypt embodied the contradictions and tensions that defined the modern Middle East. On the one hand, Egypt under President Hosni Mubarak was a corrupt, authoritarian, and economically stagnant state—albeit one that was an ally of the United States. Moreover, the lack of economic opportunities and repressive nature of the regime made young Egyptian men vulnerable to the recruiting efforts of jihadist groups (one of the 9/11 hijackers was an Egyptian national).

But the enthusiastic audience at Cairo University showed the other side of the country—young, progressive, educated. They were eager to listen to the Obama Cairo speech and listen to Obama’s vision of the world as it could be and ought to be, even if reality seldom matched that vision.

Obama Cairo Speech Energizes Students

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  • How Barack Obama went from relative obscurity to the first Black president
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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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