Obama arrives in Cairo on first visit to Egypt

Obama arrives in Cairo on first visit to Egypt

The visit, that will last only a few hours, would include a red-carpet reception in Al-Qubbah Presidential Palace here, a closed session of talks between Obama and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and a plenary talks session.

This will be followed by a one-hour address by the US President from the University of Cairo to world's 1.5 billion Muslims, whose distrust towards America Obama aims to address.

In what is being billed as a historic speech by White House, Obama is expected to be candid on issues of contention and tension between the US and the Muslim world.

The much anticipated speech, White House officials said is part of the overall objective to engage the Muslim world and take on misperceptions and differences compounded after eight years of fraught ties under Obama's predecessor George W Bush.

"He feels it is important to speak very openly and candidly about the very full range of issues that have caused some tensions between the US and the Muslim world, and then also present a great deal of opportunity for partnership in the future," Ben Rhodes, the President's speech writer, said.

America's anti-terror policies, including its war on Afghanistan and Iraq, and its long-standing support to Israel has irked the Muslim nations, whose negative perceptions were augmented by the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and Guantanamo Bay.

Rhodes said Obama will touch issues of violent extremism and the threat it poses, besides the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what the US was doing there, apart from Iraq and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Obama will "discuss the relationship between Islam and America within America, particularly in light of the contributions of American Muslims," Rhodes said.

Unprecedented security measures have been put in place in Cairo, with exams cancelled in schools and universities.

Government employees have been asked to stay home.

US-Egyptian relations and the Middle East peace process are expected to dominate the discussion between Mubarak and Obama, who is also expected to visit the Pyramids.

Mubarak, who was supposed to visit the US in May had to cancel his trip following the sudden death of his 12-year-old grandson Muhammad. He had earlier sent Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt and other top officials to the US "to present Egypt's vision on regional issues" ahead of Obama's visit.

Preceding the visit, Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden released a tape on Wednesday, accusing Obama of "antagonising Muslims" and said his Pakistan policy has generated "new seeds of hatred and revenge against America."

Obama travelled to Cairo from Saudi Arabia, the home to Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

President Obama's decision to address the Muslim world from Egypt has drawn positive comment here, with Egyptian government welcoming it, saying it "proves that Egypt still maintains its leading role in the region".

Egypt's Mufti Shaykh Ali Jum'ah said Obama's address from Egypt is "a positive step in the context of building confidence between the US and the Muslim world."

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Egypt's main political Islamist opposition group in a statement on May 28, said it would not comment on Obama's visit until it is over.

"The MB will judge the visit by its results after its conclusion, all the more so because the programme, nature and goals of the visit have not been declared as yet," it said.

Obama pushed for a new dialogue with the Islamic world on taking office in January and offered a partnership based on mutual respect and interest.

He gave an interview to the Al-Arabiya network, made an unprecedented address to Iranians and, in Turkey pressed that the US was not at war with Muslims.


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