News

    Cairo Speech Said to Signal Increased Funding of Democracy Programs

    Multimedia

    Audio

    US President Barack Obama’s intent to deepen engagement in the Middle East is being described as a bold departure from his immediate predecessors.  But to measure how his broad suggestions of finding commonality with the Muslim world, practicing religious tolerance, and curbing extremism get translated into action represent as great a test for US diplomacy as President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.  That’s how executive director Andrew Albertson of the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy described the challenge of Thursday’s speech at Cairo University.

    “I think that President Obama, by going to Cairo, by speaking directly to people, around the filters of state-controlled media, was the first step in his opening for resetting and recasting that relationship with the Muslim and Arab world.  It was a pretty bold diplomatic move, something along the lines of Nixon going to China. That was the great strategic challenge for the US at that time, a country that we had very difficult relations with,” he recalled.

    Mr. Obama’s speech in Cairo enabled him to reach citizens by going around their governments and offering his audience a new beginning, provided the peoples of the Middle East are willing to work together to repair a history of what the president described as fear and mistrust.  Albertson says the direct approach was a skillful act of good diplomacy.

    “We have really good relationships with the governments in the Middle East, with maybe the exception of Syria.  But we don’t have a really good relationship with the people of the region, and for too long, we’ve allowed ourselves to be wedged away from Muslims and Arabs.  And I think this was a necessary and a very important, and a very prudent, well-thought-out strategic opening,” he maintained.

    Albertson said that last week, the Obama administration’s budget request submitted to Congress for next year signaled large increases in programs supporting democracy and human rights activities across the Middle East.

    “We saw steady or increased numbers in almost every country in the region – big increases for two major aid instruments, the Middle East Partner Initiative and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  The only exception, and this is kind of an odd exception, given the President’s speech in Cairo, was a big cut for democracy activists and governing schools in Egypt,” he pointed out.

    In laying the groundwork for a renewal of scholarships and exchange programs and people-to-people dialogues, Albertson said Mr. Obama had outlined the first steps that could be taken to build greater trust and understanding.  While acknowledging that cultural differences and large political disagreements continue to exist, Albertson said “the president didn’t shy away from those differences,” and his willingness to talk openly about them could help bridge the gap of suspicion.

    “I think when you’re honest, people respect that, even if they don’t necessarily like everything that the president might have said.  And that lays a good groundwork for saying some other things.  To those who have criticized him for, I guess, reaching out too far, to Muslims I would just point out the incredible strategic importance of making this kind of effort, and I think it’s ultimately going to pay dividends,” said Albertson.

    As for the best way to calibrate how President Obama’s words Thursday in Cairo ultimately get translated into action, Albertson suggests that the high stakes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the president’s ability to win agreement on halting Israeli settlement expansion is one benchmark.

    He also says that the increased US support for democracy activists, human rights, and governance-related goals in Middle Eastern countries will help indicate how successful Mr. Obama’s vision will turn out to be.  This is true, particularly in Egypt, which Albertson argues is not currently being targeted by the president or his secretary of state for political reform.

    “One of the real tests that the Obama administration has to grapple with right away, and it’s going to be a test of their seriousness on these goals that they laid out, is whether the US will continue to support democracy activists and reform goals in Egypt,” he observed.

    Albertson says that next year’s US budget request for democracy activists and government reform goals in Egypt shows a decline of 60 percent.  But he says he is hopeful that the president’s selection of Cairo as the venue for such an important speech this week will help set the tone for achieving meaningful progress and demonstrate Washington’s dedication to carrying out its intentions.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.