Monday, June 8, 2009

Obama was here

So, Obama came and went.

The day of speech, most of the city shut down. On the night before his visit (well before he even landed), there was already a significant police presence in the downtown area (where a lot of demonstrations tend to jump off). Cars were being towed. On Thursday, most businesses were closed for the day, largely in anticipation of traffic snarls. The reaction that I have gathered from people here is that it was a nice speech, we are grateful that he is not Bush, and it is still a speech. A government poll indicated 77% of Egyptians like the speech. There was a clear statement against the expansion of Israeli settlements, which was encouraging and may represent a policy shift. Several important opposition leaders were invited guests at his Cairo University address. Ultimately though, people feel that words are words and Obama will be judged here by his support for democracy and human rights in this part of the world.

For me, I greatly appreciated the way he began the speech with a relatively detailed acknowledgment of a long tradition of Islam in the US. Islam is not something external to the US, but part of the US for which the nation is much richer. I thought these comments were smart and compelling, and directed (or at least should have been) at a US audience that remains terribly ignorant of its own history.

I heard from people who live and work in the area around Cairo University that residents on the roads where the motorcade traveled were required to keep their windows closed and shuttered. Some residents were even evacuated from their homes. Cellphone signals were scrambled throughout the city, which included emergency services. One story that people were telling was that people who went outside would be blinded by some sort of high tech security device.

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