Latest News

Obama to lay out vision of Muslim world's future

CAIRO, Egypt — In his speech Thursday to Muslims around the world, President Barack Obama will speak in detail about extremism, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and "what he thinks needs to be done on all sides" to reach peace between Israelis and Palestinians, his aides said Wednesday.

On the eve of his address, Obama was still tinkering with the final text he'll deliver at Cairo University, according to Ben Rhodes, one of his speechwriters.

En route to Egypt, Obama landed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to visit King Abdullah, saying he wanted to "come to the place where Islam began" before giving the address and to ask for the Saudi king's backing on a range of economic and foreign-policy issues.

In an apparent bid to upstage the speech, al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden released an audiotape accusing the president of inflaming Muslim hatred of the U.S. by directing Pakistan to launch its month-old military offensive to wrest back the Swat Valley from the Pakistani Taliban. He said that Obama's policies were no different from former President George W. Bush's.

In Cairo, meanwhile, some of Egypt's best-known dissidents were preparing to attend the speech, an unusual opportunity in a land where political expression is discouraged.

Millions of ordinary citizens were bracing not only for what America's president would say but also for the impact that his security precautions might have on commerce and mobility in this already gridlocked mega-city.

Obama's brief Egyptian visit was to include a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, a tour of a famous mosque and a visit to the Pyramids.

Some entrepreneurs were hawking speech souvenirs, including a popular T-shirt that proclaims Obama as the world's next King Tut.

The president widely consulted Muslim Americans inside and outside the U.S. government, Rhodes said, in preparation for the remarks to an invitation-only crowd of about 3,500, plus millions watching on television.

The administration was arranging a major online initiative to engage Muslims worldwide. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the text, videos and translations would be carried via Facebook, which has about 20 million users in Muslim countries, as well as MySpace and Twitter. Additionally, Gibbs said, cell phone users can subscribe to for speech-related text messages in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, as well as English, and to offer feedback.

As for bin Laden, Gibbs said, "I don't think it's surprising that al Qaida would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts and continued efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world."

In the audiotape, broadcast by Al Jazeera shortly after the president arrived in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden said that "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred and revenge against America."

"The number of these seeds is the same as the number" of casualties and refugees displaced by the Swat fighting, he continued. "The American people need to prepare to only gain what those seeds bring up."

A U.S. counter-terrorism official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said the voice on the tape had been authenticated as that of bin Laden. "There has never been a fake bin Laden tape," he said.

Bin Laden said that Obama's approach to the Muslim world was no different from that of Bush, whose policies — from the invasion of Iraq to the use of some interrogation methods widely considered torture — convinced many Muslims that the United States had launched a war on Islam.

Touching down in Riyadh, Obama was received with a ceremonial 21-gun salute, and he greeted King Abdullah with an embrace and cheek-to-cheek touch. They drank cardamom coffee. Later, at King Abdullah's ranch, guards on horseback greeted the motorcade, and King Abdullah hung around Obama's neck a traditional gift of a gold medallion, the King Abdul Aziz Collar, described as the highest honor of the kingdom.

In brief remarks before a private meeting, the king and Obama emphasized the strategic ties between their nations.

The king offered his "best wishes to the friendly American people, who are represented by a distinguished man who deserves to be in this position."

Obama responded, "Shukran," which means "thank you" in Arabic.

In Cairo, several of Mubarak's political critics said they'd been invited to see Obama speak, They include 10 lawmakers associated with the Islamist opposition group Muslim Brotherhood, dissidents who've challenged Mubarak's 27-year rule and prominent bloggers who've exposed state torture.

Ayman Nour, a politician who spent more than three years in prison after challenging Mubarak for president in 2005, is among those who were invited and was expected to attend.

"Even those who oppose Obama's speech are going," said one of the invited bloggers, who goes by the name Sand Monkey. "No one will miss this."

However, Gamal Eid, the head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said he planned to decline the invitation. The Israeli ambassador to Egypt also is invited, and Eid said he didn't want to be in the same room as a representative of what he called a "criminal" government.

(Landay reported from Washington.)


Follow Middle East news at McClatchy's Checkpoint Jerusalem

Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo prison commits suicide

Academic freedom repressed at school where Obama will speak?

Israelis growing increasingly anxious about Obama policies

Follow national-security news at McClatchy's Nukes & Spooks

Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington

Related stories from Tri-City Herald