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Arab, Muslim Americans Have High Hopes for Obama's Cairo Speech

U.S. President Barack Obama is to deliver a long awaited speech to the world's Muslims from Egypt on June 4. The speech is widely seen as an opportunity for President Obama to set a new course in U.S. foreign policy. Arab and Muslim Americans around the United States will be watching closely to understand if Mr. Obama plans to bring a permanent and lasting peace to the Middle East.

Michigan has largest US Arab community

The southeastern part of the midwestern state of Michigan, with 300,000 Arab Americans, is home to one the largest Muslim communities in the United States. In Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, one-third of the population is Arab American, many of them are Muslim.

Fay Saad of the Arab American National Museum says "We call it Little Beirut. There are of course other ethnic backgrounds, like Iraqis, Palestinians, and Yemenis. It's a very close knit community. We all come together when times are tough, and we all come together when times are good."

2006 was tough for Saad. An Israeli bomb destroyed a family home in Beirut, killing her grandmother and aunt.

Sense of fairness

Saad hopes President Obama will restore what she considers a sense of fairness in dealing with the Palestinians and with Lebanon.

"Our American bombs killed my grandmother. They were American made bombs," she said. "And if America continues to give our bombs and our ammunition to Israel to continue demolishing Arab countries, it's just not fair."

Anan Ameri, a Palestinian-American, and director of the museum, hopes President Obama's speech is a first step in establishing permanent peace between "Israel and Palestine" - her word for the Palestinian territories.

"This is a problem that has been in existence for a very long time, and it's not going to be solved overnight," Ameri said. "But at least the intentions or the messages we are getting is that the Middle East is an important issue and it should be resolved fairly, and that Palestinians should have a fair resolution to their problems."

Local newspaper talks about speech

The Arab American community in Dearborn has its own newspaper. Many recent articles have dealt with Mr. Obama's upcoming speech.

Osama Siblani is the publisher. He says the president should look within the United States for help in launching a peace initiative.

"I think he has two of the biggest assets actually right within his reach," Siblani said. "One of them is President Jimmy Carter, and the other is Arab Americans."

Great expectations

Some of those Arab Americans live in California.

Khaled Soliman works for the city of Los Angeles. He has great expectations for President Obama's speech.

"What I expect from him in Cairo, that he will deliver a message of hope and also show that the United States is sincere in dealing with the Muslim world and really change the image of the last eight years," Soliman said. "And of course, whatever he says, it should be followed by action."

On the east coast of the United States, Malika Rushdan says one speech won't determine whether or not President Obama can improve relations with Muslims.

"I wouldn't want to be in his position because he has a heavy, heavy load to bear and a long road to travel, I think, as far as healing US-Muslim relations throughout the world, and thusfar, I think the verdict is still out," Rushdan said.

Wait and see

The prospects for Arab-Israeli peace efforts, and therefore improved relations with Muslims, will become clearer a few months after the speech, says University of Michigan Professor and author Juan Cole.

"There will be new Palestinian elections in January, set them up right, and you get a government you might be able to negotiate with," Cole said. "So these are challenges for Obama, but they are not insuperable challenges."

Many in the Arab and Muslim American community relate to Mr. Obama's personal narrative as the son of an African Muslim who also lived for a time in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.

But many also question whether he can use his background and international goodwill to grapple with the foreign policy challenges posed by the Middle East.