Obama's message to the Muslim Brotherhood

This bit in Obama's speech was interesting. It seemed to be a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned-but-tolerated Islamist movement, at least 10 of whose members were reportedly in attendance:

[T]here are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

Message: If you want to be seen as a legitimate political movement and allowed to contest elections fairly, you need to play by the rules. Of course, the same could easily be said of Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, which is, er, not so democratic.

UPDATE: Marc Lynch has more on this and other aspects of the speech. "[T]he rollout of the speech already stands as one of the most successful public diplomacy and strategic communications campaigns I can ever remember," he writes.


Obama flubs name of host university; defends hijab

I just watched the video of Obama's speech in Cairo, and I must say, I cringed when he said this line: "For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement."

Oddly, he pronounced Al-Azhar as "ulazar," and not "al azz har," as it should be pronounced. You'd think he would have been coached on that one. (Michael Goldfarb will be disappointed to learn that the U.S. president is not a secret Arabic speaker after all.)

Maybe Obama should have used phonetic spellings, like his predecessor often did?

The speech was mostly good, but it did contain some oddities, such as its repeated references to the hijab, the head scarf that many Muslim women wear. Obama seems to view this controversial article of clothing uncritically, reserving his comments for those, presumably in France and Britain, who support banning the hijab in public schools and so forth:

[T]he U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it. [...] [I]t is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism. [...] I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal.

Obama should understand that women in Muslim communities don't always feel that they have a choice about wearing the hijab. I heard many liberal, secular women in Cairo complain that they felt great social pressure bearing down upon them to cover their hair, and that the religious trend in the country meant the pressure was only increasing. A nod to such women's concerns would have been nice to hear.

UPDATE: Peter Daou has more on the hijab:

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?