Well, it’s official: President Barack Obama will deliver his long-rumored address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4th. Early reports suggest that Obama chose “The City of One-Thousand Minarets” for this speech to bolster U.S.-Egyptian ties, which have been chilly ever since the Bush administration called on the Mubarak regime to hold competitive elections in 2005.
If so, the irony is astounding. After all, showing respect for Islam and embracing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are mutually exclusive activities. Indeed, how does one show respect to Muslims while cozying up to a dictator who represses nearly 70 million of them? Alternatively, how does one reassure a secular Arab dictator of his relationship with Washington while also telling his citizens that the U.S. has a “stake” in their well being?
In short, if Obama believes that the choice between Muslim publics and their secular authoritarian leaders is another “false” one, he’s about to be disappointed. Make no mistake: the moment our Agent of Change is seen standing next to Misr Stability, millions of Muslims will conclude – rightly – that Obama is no different from his Hosni-loving predecessors. Actually, many Muslims might conclude that Obama is worse, since none of his predecessors had the temerity to claim that their relationship with Mubarak was in the name of cross-cultural respect.
This is public diplomacy at its most asinine.