The media is devoting a lot of time previewing President Obama’s speech that he’s giving tomorrow in Egypt. I wonder how many reporters will take the time to read President Bush’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Egypt last year — it’s worth a second look.
I’ll be curious to hear what the president says. I expect he will touch on America’s respect for the Islamic faith and religious tolerance in our country (though I’m not sure he will discuss the lack of such tolerance in other countries).
It’s likely that he will paint a future of the Middle East as a place of prosperity, peace, and democracy — although he has gone out of his way not to use the word “democracy” in the past, I hope he will use it tomorrow.
The question I have is whether he’s willing to talk about the difficult steps on the road to that destination. In President Bush’s speech, he made specific points about supporting democracy advocates, free and fair elections, free-market entrepreneurs, and women. Given that, the questions I have are:
* Will Obama be willing to speak out against the jailing of political dissidents in Egypt, as President Bush did?
* Will he stand firmly for free elections, even when we may not like the outcome?
* Will he support free-trade measures to help the Middle East connect itself to the global economy?
* Will he be willing to recognize all that the United States has done to protect Muslims over the past several decades — in Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq? And not to forget the extraordinary assistance after the tsunami in South Asia and the earthquake in Pakistan (I remember well how Pakistanis up in the mountains called U.S. Chinook helicopters “angels of mercy”).
In all of my time working for him, I noticed that President Bush did not see people as “Muslims” any more than he saw them as Jews or Christians or Buddhists or atheists. He saw them as individuals, each with God-given value, each deserving the universal gift of freedom. The people of the Middle East should be treated with dignity not because they are Muslims, but because they are human beings. And it was on that premise that President Bush reached out to them.