US President Barack Obama took the stage today at Cairo University to deliver a long-awaited address to the Muslim world. He pledged a new era of cooperation and mutual respect, but acknowledged to his audience that "no speech can eradicate centuries of mistrust."
Obama spoke for close to an hour to 3,000 invited guests in an ornate hall festooned with Egyptian and American flags.
His talk was broadcast live on state-run television in order to reach a broad audience throughout the Middle East.
It fulfilled a campaign promise that, if elected, Obama would travel to a major Muslim capital to address tensions in the relationship between the United States and the world's 1.4 billion Muslims.
At the same time, he urged the Islamic world to meet America half way.
"The cycle of suspicion and discord must end," he said. "I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world."
He continued, "America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition."
Obama underscored what he said were common principles: justice, progress, and tolerance, and pledged to build a partnership, "based on what Islam is and not on what Islam isn't."
The president tackled seven larger points at the university:
• The need to confront violent extremism in all of its forms. "So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity."
•The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable....the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of
•Nuclear proliferation. "... any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
•The role of democracy. "There has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other."
•The need for religious freedom and expression. "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.... Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it."
•Women's rights. "I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality."
•Economic development. "... human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition."
Obama urged the world's Muslims to confront their own common anti-American stereotypes. "The United States is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire," he argued.
In recent weeks, both leaders and average people in Muslim countries expressed hope that Obama would use the speech to lay out specific policy plans especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But he did not present a concrete vision for the future.
"The issues that divide us are not easy to address but we have a responsibility to join together to live in the world we seek," he said. If we choose to bend to the past we will never move forward."