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Blogmo Day 5: اوباما و القاهرة {Obama and Cairo}

December 5, 2008

I don’t want to go down the pundit-speculation route too often, but Al Qahirah is very close to my heart (and the first reason for this blog, before all this blogmo nonsense) and while it excites me that our new President would choose the city for a landmark speech to the Muslim world, it’s kind of a weird choice.

President-elect Barack Obama’s aides say he is considering making a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.

So where should he do it? The list of Islamic world capitals is long, and includes the obvious —Riyadh, Kuwait City, Islamabad — and the not-so-obvious — Male (the Maldives), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Tashkent (Uzbekistan). Some wise-guys have even suggested Dearborn, Mich., as a possibility.

They eventually settle on Cairo, not for any particularly strong reason, but because every other candidate doesn’t seem quite right.

The Secret Service won’t like it one bit, but Cairo is no Islamabad. I called the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to ask officials there what they thought. Someone from Mr. Obama’s team had already mentioned the possibility, although embassy officials said Egypt has not been approached about a possible presidential trip to Cairo.

As I tell anyone who will listen, Cairo is well known as “al umm al-dunyia”, or “the mother of the world”. Cairo has been a spoke of civilization for hundreds of years and during the years of Gamal Abdulnasser it became the center of pan-Arabism. Cool fact: Egypt and Syria were one country for a short period of time – the United Arab Republic. It fell apart because Nasser made Cairo the capitol, and the requisite brain and resource drain followed. Cairo was were Arab television started. Anwar Sadat made history by signing the Camp David Accords. Al-Ahzar, the most revered Muslim university, sits in the center of the city.

But now the economic center of the Arab world is the Gulf, and Egypt has slid further into corruption. Cairo is arguably safer than other capitols, but only because the entire city shuts down when President Mubarak wants to say hi to his Parliament. Cairo seems, unfortunately, to be coasting on its past accomplishments and reputation. Great accomplishments, and a long-term reputation that makes America look like a teenager, but does a speech in Cairo speak to the current position of the Arab or Muslim world? Does it look forward?

Bonus quote, from Politico’s story, which includes the possiblity of Indonesia:

“He [Obama] then said when he got off [Air Force One], he would say ‘xxxxxxxx’ – which we, of course, didn’t understand,” Leary emailed. “He said that it was Indonesian (which he speaks) for, ‘I am back, dudes.'”

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 7, 2008 10:16 pm

    You’ve seen enough first season West Wing to know there is no such language as Indonesian.

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