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?
Modernity and globalism were visited upon these countries as well, and yet they have succeeded in bringing liberty and prosperity to their people without resorting to hateful terrorism in the name of Allah.
Each nation gives life to this principle [democracy] in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. … America does not presume what is best for everyone.
From Obama’s words, are we to conclude that treating women as second-class citizens and excluding most of them from political life and the workforce is a fair and acceptable tradition because “each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its people”? In his partiality towards Arabs and Muslims, President Obama ignored the fact that there are universal standards for human rights and democratic behavior which are clearly outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and they are more grossly abused in the Arab-Muslim world than by any other group, region, or people on the globe.
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Obama went on to give Syria a free pass by ignoring its subversion of democracy in Lebanon and the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Meanwhile, he appeased Iran’s theocratic dictatorship, saying:
I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.
In contrast to Obama, Condoleezza Rice was firm regarding these two terrorist supporting nations:
The case of Syria is especially serious … because as its neighbors embrace democracy or other political reforms, Syria is harboring or directly supporting groups committed to violence … in Lebanon, in Israel, in Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories.
In Iran … people are losing patience with an oppressive regime that denies them their liberty and their rights. The appearance of elections does not mask the organized cruelty of Iran’s theocratic state. The Iranian people are capable of liberty. They desire liberty. And they deserve liberty.
Such direct language did not come from Obama — not even after the 2009 fraudulent election results in Iran brought millions of Iranian protesters to the street.
The only bold statement Obama made in Cairo, for which he received his loudest applause, was when he used Israel as bait and exhibited misplaced moral equivalency. Bush’s secretary of state did not need to resort to blasting the only democracy in the Middle East.
While it is true that mistakes were made by Bush in his campaign for democracy in the Middle East — including his insistence on allowing Hamas to compete in the 2006 Palestinian elections before building democratic institutions — the Bush campaign for democracy did, however, give Middle Eastern Arabs and others hope.
In the end, Obama’s politically correct Cairo speech that excused Arab and Palestinian behavior has done little to further democracy or give hope to millions of oppressed Arabs as well as persecuted minorities (Baluchistan, Kurds, and Christians), let alone affect change.