President Obama faces numerous challenges as he heads to Cairo this week for a much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world.
At best there are mixed feelings in the region. Mohammed Habib, deputy leader of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, said the president's trip "will be useless unless it is preceded by real change in the policies of the U.S. administration toward the Arab and Islamic world," while Egypt's opposition party, Al-Wafd, says the visit constitutes reconciliation with Cairo.
While the president will arrive in Egypt with the usual trappings of American power -- big jet, motorcade, entourage and security -- it is possible he could emerge looking weak to those he most wants to impress. European leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have tried winning Muslim friends and their efforts have gotten them nowhere. When the French government put its foot down over head scarves in public schools, many Muslims withdrew, placing their children in Islamic schools. Muslims remain mostly segregated -- physically and culturally -- from French society despite government efforts to integrate them.
For insights on President Obama's journey and Muslim thinking, I turned to Dr. Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. Dr. Caner, the son of a Turkish Muslim leader, became a Christian shortly before entering college, an experience that has produced numerous death threats.
What advice would he give Obama? He replies, "When you're trying to address the Muslim world, they want you to acquiesce to them. They don't want to make any kind of overtures to our culture because that would be a sign of weakness on their part."
What can the president say that would produce a response in the best interests of the United States? "He should call on Muslim nations to recognize Israel," he says.
They'll find oil in Israel first. The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said last week that full diplomatic recognition of Israel "is not on the table" and talk about it (presumably including talk by Jordan's King Abdullah who recently mentioned a "57-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is "inaccurate."
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