Egyptians Hope Obama Words "Turn Into Reality"

Reactions to President Obama's speech to the Muslim world were overall positive in Egypt, with the different parties expressing their satisfaction with the U.S. president's "reconciliatory rhetoric" but also hopeful "good intentions turn into reality."
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There was little reaction from the government. However, Egyptian politician and Chairman of Egypt's People's Assembly Foreign Relations Committee, Mostafa al-Fiqi, told Aljazeera TV network that though the tone of the speech was different, it did not reflect the commitment of the U.S. administration towards anything but to Israel's security.

Fiqi noted that Mr. Obama's speech took a softer line towards Hamas, as he did not describe it as a terrorist organization. Fiqi said that he did not sense that there would be any change in the U.S. foreign policies from what he heard in Mr. Obama's speech.

Dr. Saad al-Katatni, member of the Brotherhood Guidance Office and head of the Muslim Brothers' parliamentary bloc, said the speech held positive signs. "Obama touched on several topics that we need to study well and reflect upon, as they address numerous and complex dimensions," he said. "But we could not respond to what's been said till we see these words turning into action."

Katatni rejected Mr. Obama's call for an Arab recognition of the State of Israel and denounced his remarks on the United States' commitment to supporting Israel. He pointed out that "this relationship brought nothing to the Middle East and the Palestinians but ruin and devastation." He nonetheless praised President Obama for his remark that the U.S. would support the implementation of democracy and would urge governments to respect such democracy.

Copts seemed quite pleased with Obama briefly addressing their situation in his speech, though it seems to have angered the Egyptian government. Tharwat Basily, an Egyptian politician, businessman and deputy of the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Council, defended what Mr. Obama said about the freedom of religions. He said that comparing Egypt's Copts to Maronites in Lebanon did not mean that Copts were a minority. "We refuse to be labeled as such at the Egyptian Church," said Basily, insisting that the U.S. president was simply talking about religious freedoms in general.

Hossam Zaki, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, also commented on Mr. Obama's mention of Egypt's Coptic community in his speech, a very sensitive issue in Egypt.

"We do not agree with what he said about Copts being a minority," he said. "They are in our eyes lawful Egyptians and not a minority."

He added that the speech didn't practically hold anything new, though it addressed many issues that need to be looked at and analyzed.

Egypt's Mufti Dr. Ali Juma'a, said that Mr. Obama's speech was an indication of the dawning of a new promising era of U.S.-Arab/Islamic relations and paves the way for a true dialogue of civilizations. Juma'a released a statement after attending Mr. Obama's speech at Cairo University today, praising the U.S. president's stance and assuring that Muslims can surely turn a new leaf in their relations with the United States, and with the West in general. Juma'a added that Muslims expected to see concrete actions along with the words.

"The people and Muslim populations want to see these good intentions turn into reality," he said.

From his side, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, voiced his hope that Mr. Obama's speech would turn into practical measures and a real opportunity to materialize the dialogue between the Muslim world and the West.

"The West needs to understand that Islam is a religion of peace," Tantawi said. "It extends its hands towards peace. Some groups need to stop their campaigns against Islam and Muslims, and refrain from insulting the prophet."

Tantawi added that Mr. Obama's speech was very objective, and it is expected that President Obama will stand up for what's right and forbid what's wrong - especially regarding the Palestinian crisis.

Opposition "al-Ghad" party leader Ayman Nour said that President Obama was as eloquent as ever. Nour said that Mr. Obama is an outstanding speaker who knows how to properly balance his various positions. However, he noted that Mr. Obama's position from issues of democracy and civil liberties weren't addressed with enough power and clarity, and considered his position on the Arab-Israeli conflict one that gave a lot of concessions to Israel. Nour concluded by saying that his general impression of the speech was a good one.

A number of Egyptian artists also commented on the speech. Comedian Adel Imam spoke highly of President Obama and said that his speech showed that he knows the audience he is addressing well. Also commenting on the speech, actor Izzat al-Alaili said he is confident that U.S.-Egyptian relations would now return to their previous course after a period of great tensions during President Bush's administration.

Comments from the general public and readers on some Egyptian news sites were extremely positive. "For the first time in my life, I see an American President who truly wants to do well for all peoples," one reader wrote.

"God bless you Obama, your words were honest and went straight to the heart," said another. "We hope that all what you said would be translated into actions and welcome in Egypt."

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