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June 4th, 2009
01:43 PM ET
June 4th, 2009
10:34 AM ET

Arab journalist: Muslims need to be jolted

Hisham Melhem says he would have liked President Obame to be 'more blunt' with Arab and Muslim leaders.

Hisham Melhem says he would have liked President Obame to be 'more blunt' with Arab and Muslim leaders.

President Obama spoke directly to the world's billion and a half Muslims today and his widely-anticipated speech is now being debated.

Hisham Melhem is Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday.

John Roberts: What did you think of the president's speech?

Hisham Melhem: I think it was very well-crafted, eloquent. He did a good job in fusing history, culture, politics, and personal narrative. And I think he boldly discussed some thorny, tough, sensitive issues that sometimes Muslim leaders and Arab leaders don't like to hear and he asked them somewhat to engage in introspection. I think he was very honest with both Israelis and Arabs. He clearly defined America's objectives in the war against al Qaeda and…he didn't talk about the war on terrorism in general.

He was thoughtful when he talked about democracy and human rights and he did not use the Messianic, metaphysical, theological language that his predecessor George Bush used to use. There were no combustible phrases like “Islamo-Fascism.” I just wish that he went a little bit further and was a bit blunter when he was addressing the Arab and Muslim leaders on the issue of democracy and human rights. You know John, Arabs always complain about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and for the right reasons, like everybody else. But Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib pale in comparison to what takes place within Arab and Muslim prisons. We are talking here about political repression en masse. We are talking about imprisoning activists, journalists and lawyers, not violent people. And we're talking about basic denial of basic human rights.

And if I were one of his speech writers I would have added a paragraph where the president would say “I'm doing my share to start this new beginning between us and you. You have to do your share.” And he should have been a little bit more blunt about the responsibility of Arabs and their need to engage in introspection and self-criticism the way he was doing.

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Filed under: Middle East
June 4th, 2009
09:29 AM ET

Muslim activist: Obama brought us together

Dalia Ziada reacts to Obama's Mideast speech from the youth perspective.

Dalia Ziada reacts to Obama's Mideast speech from the youth perspective.

President Obama reached out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims this morning from Cairo, addressing relations with the west along with a good portion devoted to women's rights.

“Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons...”

Dalia Ziada is an Egyptian human rights activist and blogger, who attended President Obama’s speech in Cairo. She spoke to Carol Costello on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday.

Carol Costello: First of all, I want to know what it was like to sit in the audience. What was the mood like?

Dalia Ziada: The hall was full of people from different walks of life. Mostly Egyptians, Muslim Brotherhood, mixed with liberals, mixed with socialists, capitalists, people from different backgrounds, religious backgrounds like Muslims, Christians, Coptics, Baha’is. Obama succeeded to do what we always fail to do, which is bringing all of us together in one whole and agreeing on certain things and certain points.

Costello: Dalia, while he was talking about women's rights, did most of the audience clap? Did just some? Did just women?

Ziada: No, all the audience clapped because he took it from a traditional point of view. You know, people will believe you more – and believed Obama, and Obama was credible more for them because he spoke, first, about tradition, about Islam. And from this, he speaks about women's rights. He refused extremism. He rejected extremism, which we all reject, but he did not reject Islam. So everyone clapped, including men who are against women’s rights or consider women's rights not something good to speak about. Everyone clapped.

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Filed under: Middle East
June 4th, 2009
07:29 AM ET

Obama: U.S. 'not at war with Islam'

Palestinian boys listen to President Barack Obama as he delivers a speech at Cairo University, at their home in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on June 4, 2009. Getty Images
Palestinian boys listen to President Barack Obama as he delivers a speech at Cairo University, at their home in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on June 4, 2009. Getty Images

By Ed Hornick

(CNN) - President Obama spoke Thursday of the tensions between the United States and Muslims, saying "the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam."

"Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile," said Obama, delivering what the White House billed as a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt.

The president reiterated a point he made in an April speech in Turkey: "In Ankara, I made clear that America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.

"Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women and children."

Obama also said the U.S. does not want to keep its troops in Afghanistan. "Make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.

"We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan."

Obama hopes to start "a new chapter of engagement" between the United States and the Muslim world, speechwriter Ben Rhodes said Wednesday before the president's address.

This engagement would be based on mutual respect and interest, and Obama plans to speak "openly and candidly" about issues that have caused "tensions in the Muslim world," Rhodes said. "This can't be just [about] what we're against but what we're for."

Obama asked staff members to "cast a wide net" to gather a range of viewpoints, including those of Muslim-Americans, as he was preparing his Cairo comments, Rhodes said.

But just as the White House was laying out its vision, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden purportedly issued another statement Wednesday, saying U.S. policy in Pakistan has generated "new seeds of hatred and revenge against America."

Palestinian security forces listen to US President Barack Obama as he delivers a speech at Cairo University, at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Jenin on June 4, 2009. Getty Images
Palestinian security forces listen to US President Barack Obama as he delivers a speech at Cairo University, at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Jenin on June 4, 2009. Getty Images

Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera aired segments of what it said was a "voice recording by bin Laden," which was believed to have been recorded weeks ago during an exodus of civilians because of fighting in northwestern Pakistan. Pakistani troops have been taking on militants in the Swat Valley.

The message also likened Obama's actions to those of past administrations.

Obama is proving that he is "walking the same road of his predecessors to build enmity against Muslims and increasing the number of fighters and establishing more lasting wars," the tape said.

"This basically means that Obama and his administration put new seeds of hatred and revenge against America. The number of these seeds is the same as the number of those victims and refugees in Swat and the tribal area in northern and southern Waziristan."

In his Thursday speech, Obama also touched on U.S. relations with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian battle.

Addressing the nuclear tensions between United States and Iran, he said: "That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And 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."

On a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama said, "If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth. The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."

Keep reading this story


Filed under: Middle East
June 4th, 2009
06:26 AM ET

What's on tap – Thursday, June 4, 2009

President Barack Obama delivers his highly-anticipated address to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009 in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in Cairo. Getty Images
President Barack Obama delivers his highly-anticipated address to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009 in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in Cairo. Getty Images

Happening now – President Obama speaks to the Muslim world.

An important and highly anticipated speech designed to repair relations with the Muslim world – The president has apparently been working right up to the wire. It's a big moment for his presidency and we have a big team with us to break it all down. CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley is here with Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. We're also joined by a panel of foreign policy experts, Republican strategist Ed Rollins, Democratic strategist Lisa Caputo, Fawaz Gerges, Middle East scholar at Sarah Lawrence College and Robin Wright, author of "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East." It's a big moment for the White House and we have a big team here with us to give you the best coverage possible.

Tell us your thoughts on President Obama's speech on Twitter @amFIX


Filed under: What's On Tap