Egyptians welcome Obama's speech


US President Barack Obama's historic speech to the Muslim world calling for a ''new beginning'' in ties with America evoked a positive response in Egypt with political circles and common people expressing satisfaction over his effort to reach out to them and his reference to Palestinian statehood.

"This is a correct start," head of political office of the major opposition Muslim Brotherhood, Issam al-Iryan, said referring to Obama's criticism of Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank.

"The most important step would be implementation of this vision. Muslims cannot turn a new leaf with US unless there is a just and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian issue," he said.

During his landmark speech at the Egyptian capital on his first visit to the Middle East after assuming Presidency, Obama said: "the US does not accept legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace."

The Egyptian media covered extensively the speech delivered from the Cairo University to the Arab and Muslim world.

The speech was broadcast live and in full by all channels and was followed with analysis and commentaries.

Analyst Lamis al-Hadidi observed that Obama started his speech with the Arabic greetings "Shukran" (thank you) and "Al-Salam Alekom" (peace be upon you), and finished with verses from the Holy Quran and the Bible.

She noted that the audience applauded Obama about 30 times as he did not only focus in his speech on dialogue between the US and Muslim world but also on regional issues.

Analyst Emad Adib said the speech was the best he had heard since that of former Egyptian president Anwar As-sadat in the Israeli Knesset. "Besides Obama's charisma and oratory skills, it seems the president used a balance of gold to balance the messages."

Obama's speech touched on six main points: confrontation of violent extremism in all of its forms; situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world; shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons; democracy; religious freedom; women's rights and economic development; and war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite the number of topics covered, average Egyptians were mainly interested in US-Egypt relations and the Israeli-Palestinian cause. The common people, who welcomed Obama's effort to reach out to the Arab world, however doubted if it would make much of a difference.

"It was a more than excellent speech. He gave Arabs back their dignity. He called for things that are very good for Arabs and for Islam. It is the first time an American president speaks on such issues," Hammad, a doorman who was following the speech on his transistor, said.

A positive impression was echoed by Issam, a university student who was more impressed with Obama's oratory skills.

"It is clear that Obama is so well informed and educated. He spoke from the top of his head with no script to follow. His mind was so organised. The ball now is in the court of the Arabs.

"He used verses from the Quran, something no other US president did," he said.

Doubting that the speech would make any difference on the ground, Abd-al-Fattah, a young delivery boy who joined a group of people watching Obama speak said: "This man tried to be balanced, but his bias towards Israel was apparent. He will not do anything differently. We were stupid to have closed down Cairo today for his sake".

Human rights groups were satisfied with the mention of freedom of religion and rights of Copts (Egyptian Christians), besides rights of women and democracy in Obama's address.

However, anti-establishment group the 'Kifaya movement,' which has been demanding an end to the rule of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, said Egypt should not have been chosen as a platform to address the Islamic world when it lacks any type of true democracy.

Founding member of Kifaya, Karima Al-Hifnawi said: "Obama showed us we were right not to accept the invitations to attend the speech. He completely overlooked democracy in Egypt. He showed he is giving a green light to Mubarak to do whatever he wants".

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