Obama to Give 'Muslim Speech' in Egypt: The Significance of Choosing the Arab Street

The president passed over Indonesia and Morocco, where U.S. approval is higher.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Barack Obama will give what one aide has described to me as his "Muslim speech"—a major address to the Muslim world from a predominantly Muslim country that Obama pledged to give within his first 100 days in office—in Egypt on June 4.

The location is significant because Obama didn't have to pick a nation in the Arab street. He could have taken an easier way out.

The biggest Muslim-majority country in the world, after all, is Indonesia, where the president spent part of his childhood. Public opinion polls show that Indonesian attitudes aren't as hardened against the United States as are feelings in Middle Eastern nations, and the president certainly would have gotten a warmer reception in Southeast Asia than he will in the Middle East.

Obama could have picked a North African country like Morocco, another place the United States enjoys more support than in the Middle East. A Gallup analysis last year revealed that most Moroccans approved of the job performance of American leaders.

That same analysis found that only 13 percent of Egyptians approved of the job performance of U.S. leadership. Between 2005 to 2008, the number of Egyptians who said the United States is serious about promoting democracy in the Middle East and North Africa slid from 24 percent to 4 percent. Only one other country saw that steep a decline. This even though Egypt is one the world's leading beneficiaries of U.S. aid, receiving $1.3 billion in military assistance alone.

Obama is going near the epicenter of Muslim antipathy toward the United States. That bold move may speak just as loudly to Muslims abroad as whatever he says during his speech.

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