Bush, Obama Take Two Different Approaches to Muslim Democracy

It may be a historical curiosity that both Condoleezza Rice -- President Bush’s secretary of state -- and President Barack Obama chose Cairo University as the venue to send their messages to the Arab world. Egypt, the most populous Arab country and the largest Arab recipient of U.S. foreign aid, is also the country from which President/dictator Hosni Mubarak pledges his support for the U.S. and the West, causing his countrymen to hate America for its support of their dictator. Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 al-Qaeda suicide bombers, was an upper-middle-class Egyptian.

What is significant about the two speeches delivered at Cairo University is the difference in tone and substance. Secretary of State Rice spoke to the Arab world by way of the Egyptian student audience with 9/11 very much on her mind when she said:

In our world today, a growing number of men and women are securing their liberty. And as these people gain the power to choose, they create democratic governments to protect their natural rights. We should all look to a future when every government respects the will of its citizens -- because the ideal of democracy is universal. ...

For 60 years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

The George W. Bush administration surmised correctly that terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam was due to the absence of democracy and pluralism in the Arab world. Under dictators such as Abdul Nasser in Egypt, the failure of Arab socialism and nationalism to provide liberty and prosperity for their people made Islam the only safe avenue for protest and change. The mosque became the outlet for the frustration. Dr. Ayman al-Zahawiri, the second-in-command of al-Qaeda, found it easy to recruit future terrorists among privileged students who did not see a future for themselves in Egypt.

Obama’s Cairo speech was ostensibly meant to “repair America’s relations with Islam.” However, the tone of his June 4, 2009, speech was appeasing and apologetic. Obama blamed the West and America for the failures of Arab countries, rather than the Arab dictatorial leaders:

Tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Has President Obama deliberately lost sight of the fact that India, Singapore, and other South Asian countries were also colonized by Western powers, and that they too were treated as proxies?