Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Announcement of the anticipated visit to Egypt by US President Barak Obama has stirred controversy among Egypt’s political opposition leaders, who have played down the significance of the visit. The Egyptian Embassy in Washington welcomed the visit. The Muslim Brotherhood said that President Obama’s visit to Egypt is of no value, while the opposition Wafd party and the Grouping Party said the visit constitutes reconciliation with Cairo and provides an opportunity to turn a new page in relations. The Kifayah movement played down the importance of the visit, saying it did not pin much hope on it.
Ina statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Muhammad Habib, first deputy to the general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, said: “The US Administration employs all cards to serve its own interests.” He said that the speech that Obama intends to deliver in Egypt is “of no value.” He added: “Statements and speeches must be associated with, or preceded by real change in policy on the ground, because policy is judged by deeds, not words.”
Habib said that there should be two axes in the Middle East, one that includes Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, and another that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. He said: “In both axes Egypt should be the base and the spearhead in handling all thorny issues in the Middle East, and it should deny any opportunity for interference by Israel, the United States, or any Western power.”
For his part, George Ishaq, assistant to the general coordinator of the Egyptian Movement for Change, “Kifayah,” downplayed the importance of President Obama’s visit to Egypt as well as his speech to the Muslim world. He said that the US policy will not change after Obama’s visit to Egypt and the speech he will deliver to the Muslim world. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Washington’s policy will continue to support despotic regimes because they prefer stability to democracy, as former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.” He pointed out that relations between Washington and Cairo are based on interest and benefit, and that Obama’s speech has no value. He added: “We do not pin much on hope on his visit though we wish the visit would mark reconciliation and accord with the peoples, not against them.”
Dr Rifat al-Said, leader of the left-wing opposition Grouping Party, said Obama’s visit to Egypt and delivering his speech in Cairo is no more than an attempt to placate the Egyptian side after a period of “mutual admonition” between Cairo and Washington during the era of former US President George Bush.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press spokesman, said the specific site for Obama’s speech has not yet been selected, but noted that Egypt is a suitable country for the speech because, from many aspects, it represents the heart of the Arab world.” At a new conference the day before yesterday, and in reply to a question on the [poor] human rights record in Egypt, Gibbs said: “The scope of the speech was more important than the leadership of the country in which it was given.”
Samih Shukri, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, said that Egypt provides President Obama with an appropriate forum because of its large population, cultural traditions, and “moderate Islamic values.” In a statement he released, he added: “The truth of Islam emanates from its moderation, not extremism. Egypt hopes that Obama’s speech will be a key element in the United States’s relations with the Muslim world.” He added: “It is important for America’s relations with the Muslim would to rely on mutual respect and understanding. Egypt is ready to work with President Obama and his administration to achieve this goal in keeping with our long-time friendship.
The White House said that President Obama’s visit to Egypt was not at the invitation of the Egyptian government. It should be recalled that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will visit Washington before the end of this month. Gibbs said that President Obama’s message is aimed not just at the Arabs, but Muslims throughout the world. He gave as example Indonesia, where President Obama spent part of his childhood and which has the world’s largest Muslim population.
Before his inauguration as president on 20 January, President Obama had expressed a desire to improve the US image in the world, particularly the Muslim world. In his inauguration speech, he proposed “a new approach based on mutual interest and respect.” Obama’s speech in Egypt will follow his speech in Turkey in which he spoke of the importance of improving relations between the two parties, and stressed that his country “is not at war with Islam.”
Obama had earlier stated that he intended to speak to a major Muslim forum in the first 100 days after his inauguration, if he were to be elected. However, the first 100 days passed on 30 April without delivering his speech. US officials said that the US president’s busy schedule and his first foreign tour in April were behind the delay in delivering his speech.