Friday, May 29, 2009

Obama in Cairo

Barack Obama is coming to Cairo. Soon after his election, and well before his inauguration, there were news reports that he planned to deliver a major address in the Muslim world during his first 100 days. Though his first 100 days have passed, the address is scheduled to happen here on Thursday.

Officially the location is undecided, which is a bit of a joke. It will be held at Cairo University (which I blogged about at the beginning of the month). There was a good article in the NY Times about the “ill-kept secret.” I have talked to people about it and most people are focused on the disruptions it will cause. The university has been forced to shut down for a week during final examinations. Faculty and students are not pleased. Many students had planned to return home for the summer (to other parts of Egypt or the region), but suddenly are forced to stay for another week. Few, if any, will be able to attend the speech. The campus is in disarray. And the traffic nightmare will be incredible. There is a program scheduled for the Pyramids, which means that the entire area of Giza will be blocked off. This is, like most of Cairo, an already congested area. The logistics are unfortunately alienating many of the people to whom he is reaching out.

As for the content of his address, there is hope that he will make some major statement on Palestinian self-determination, but that seems highly unlikely. More probable, his simple presence here will symbolically begin the long process of making amends for the damage that the US has done in the region and to its own reputation during the past eight years.

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