Foreign Policy Blogs

Mount Everest in Cairo

It may come to be known as the “new begininngs” speech.  The speech that Barack Obama delivered today at Cairo University was probably not his best speech, but it may be his most important and most widely disseminated ever.  The U.S. government distributed it immediately in many languages, it was broadcast live in its entirety by Al Jazeera and the other networks of the Arab world, and the White House and State Department used social media such as Facebook to extend its reach and impact.  It could be the most consequential presidential speech to a foreign audience in history, certainly since John Kennedy spoke to Berliners in 1963.

What made it so?  Unlike other speeches by traveling U.S. presidents, this one tried to reset world politics in a fundamental way, even as it introduced its themes protesting that “no single speech can overcome years of mistrust.”  David Gergen, communications advisor to Reagan and Bill Clinton, was clearly in awe of Obama’s ambition:  he told CNN beforehand it was a “Mt. Everest of a speech” in terms of how much it was trying to accomplish.

Will it change hearts and minds in predominantly Muslim countries?  I think it at least will create conditions for a new beginning in America’s relations with the Islamic world.  Obama spoke knowledgeably about Islam, about Muslims in America and about America’s ties with the Muslim countries.

Obama’s obvious personal connection to Islam — his father’s family, his childhood years in Indonesia — added credibility to Obama’s call for tolerance and dialogue.  The list of issues presented (at times, more like a professor than a politician) did not neglect any of the political-social realities:  violent extremism, Palestine and Israel, nuclear non-proliferation, democracy and human rights, religious freedom, women’s rights.

Broader engagement between the United States and the Muslim world.  Not just oil and gas.  This could indeed be a new beginning.



Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy