Obama Reaches Out To Muslim World

President Barack Obama gives his inaugural address after being sworn in as 44th president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009.
AP/Ron Edmonds
It's sunset in Cairo and the call to prayer rings out. Thousands fill the mosques for Friday prayers.

CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports that Muslims around the world are paying close attention to the overtures made by Barack Obama from his first moments as president.

"To the Muslim world we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect," Mr. Obama said in his inauguration speech in January.

That way forward begins in Egypt.

"This is the first time that an American president comes to a Muslim capital and wants to deliver a speech - a speech of reconciliation with the Muslim world," said Professor Mohammed Kamal of Cairo University.

About 20 million people live here, at the ancient crossroads of Cairo. It's the intellectual center of the Arab world.

The heartland of Islam is here in the Middle East, even though Arab countries make up only about 20 percent of the world's Muslims.

Cairo was a natural choice for President Obama's speech because it's at the heart of the Arab world and although he'll be speaking to Muslims in general, when it comes to U.S. strategic interests, it's the Arab countries that are the most critical.

"The main problems between the American and the Muslim world are Arab problems - problems like the Palestinian problem, the Iraq problem and so on," said Mohammed Kamal.

Egypt's location has always made it critical to stability in the Middle East. Nestled below Israel and Jordan, a neighbor to Saudi Arabia and Libya, the Suez Canal at its northern tip where thirty percent of the world's oil passes every year.

It receives over $1.5 billion a year in U.S. aid - second only to Israel with whom it has fought four wars.

Then in 1978 the tide changed. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to recognize and visit the Jewish state.

He engaged Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David, then signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Two years later anger at Sadat's outreach to Israel boiled over. Militants assassinated him. Vice President Hosni Mubarak took control.

Throughout his 28-year reign, a wary Mubarak maintained peace with Israel and good relations with the U.S. But many in Egypt feel his leadership cost his people dearly.

Today over forty percent of Egyptians live in poverty.

A bigger problem for President Obama: Mubarak's Egypt is seen by many as an oppressive police state.

On election day in 2005, the world saw a chaotic scene in Egypt. Police blockaded polling stations, beating back people they feared would vote against the ruling party.

Ayman Nour finished a distant second to President Mubarak. But the regime felt threatened by his popularity. So they threw him in jail for three years.

"I dream that my children and grandchildren will some day have a free country," Nour told Logan.

Nour is one of many here who are concerned that President Obama's presence endorses Mubarak's oppressive rule.

"I fear that by speaking here, he is supporting a tyrannical regime with a bad human rights record," Nour said. "I hope Obama works towards change here."

America's new leader has raised the hopes of Muslims all over the world - who now expect so much of one man.