The Global Muslim Brotherhood Reacts To Obama Cairo Speech


The global Muslim Brotherhood has reacted in a sharply divided manner to President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. On the one hand, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps reflecting it recent shift towards Tehran, called the speech “a mere public relations campaign and an attempt to beautify America’s image”. According to a statement posted on the Egyptian Brotherhood website:

The MB described American President Barack Obama’s speech last Thursday to the Islamic world as “a mere public relations campaign and an attempt to beautify America’s image that had been tarnished by its injustice, invasions, and crimes of aggression and Arab-Muslim bloodshed everywhere, especially in Palestine.” In their statement on Saturday, the MB emphasized that if the American-led campaign against Muslims didn’t stop tension would continue and rise, resistance would increase and strengthen, and the instability around the world would remain so long as America and its leadership don’t change their unjust stances supportive of Zionists and their unjust followers. “The general principles of human rights, justice, the necessity of dialogue based on mutual respect and trust, and others which President Obama mentioned in his speech are unarguable,” the statement said affirming that the emotional phrases and eloquent language Obama used in his speech through which he tried to win the hearts of Muslims neither establish any justice nor restore any right to Muslims whether in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any other country in the Islamic world where Muslim bloodshed is found day and night under the planning and cunningness of the successive American administrations. The statement also explained that Obama’s declaration of America’s continuing support for Israel to attain their security and failure to recognize the right of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation confirms that Obama is following the path of his predecessors in their double standards policy. The statement also denounced the short and superficial reference to democracy and criticizing of the peoples calling for it in the Arab-Islamic world while ignoring the existing dictatorships and unjust and corrupt regimes which suppress their peoples and marginalize their roles.

The reaction of the Egyptian Brotherhood was even harsher in Arabic. According to a German press agency report on a statement made in Arabic:

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, on Saturday said US President Barack Obama’s speech to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims showed the “cunning of the masters of the Zionist/American project against the sons of the Muslim nation.”In a statement sent to reporters Saturday, the group said it “completely agreed with the general principles of human rights, justice and the need for dialogue based on respect and mutual trust that Obama laid out.” But the US president’s “deft use of language to win Muslims’ hearts does nothing to give Muslims their rights, whether in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, where blood is shed day and night by the design of successive US administrations,” the statement said. The Muslim Brotherhood slammed Obama’s expressions of support for “the Zionists in Palestine,” and his “attempts to force the Palestinian people to surrender.”The US president’s “focus on the myth of the Holocaust … does not begin to justify the occupation of Palestine, the ethnic cleansing, genocide, and massacre … of the Palestinian people, or the stifling and lethal blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Obama completely ignored,” the group said. The Brotherhood statement dismissed Obama’s “attempts to tickle… Muslims” by quoting verses of the Koran and praising Islamic values and contributions to society as “a mere change in tactics” that “would not deceive Muslims.”It further criticised Obama’s “brief mention of democracy” while “turning a blind eye to dictatorships and corrupt regimes that oppress their people.”

The U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, issued highly favorable reactions although a close reading of the statements reveals that the specific praise was for elements of the Obama speech that matched the Brotherhood agenda. The Council on American Islamic Relations, for example, expressed appreciation for what the organization saw as the President’s support for the hijab (headscarf), his opposition to Israeli settlements, and to the American Muslim contribution to the “protection of civil rights”:

President Obama’s comprehensive, balanced and forthright address covered almost all the bases in terms of issues of concern to Americans, American Muslims and those in Muslim-majority nations. It may serve as a turning point in what have been deteriorating relations between America and the Muslim world. “We believe the president’s call for a ‘new beginning’ in relations between the United States and Muslims worldwide will be well-received by all people of good will. We agree with the president that the ‘cycle of suspicion and discord must end.’ “By quoting the Quran on issues such as diversity, justice and the sanctity of human life, the president acknowledged Islam’s contributions to universal values. “CAIR appreciates the president’s acknowledgment of the contributions American Muslims have made and continue to make to our nation and to the protection of civil rights. We applaud the president’s commitment to work with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill their religious obligation of charitable giving. “American Muslims also appreciate the president’s statement that ‘Islam is part of America’ and his defense of the right to wear religious attire such as the Islamic headscarf, or hijab. President Obama seemingly referenced a case made public by CAIR when he said ‘the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab.’ (In 2004, CAIR welcomed a U.S. Department of Justice decision to support the right of an Oklahoma student who was suspended because of her headscarf. A CAIR alert about the girl’s suspension drew international media attention.) “We back the president’s call for the rejection of religious extremism and his support for the spread of representative government, the right to religious freedom and the right of women worldwide to equal rights and opportunities.” “We particularly appreciate the president’s challenge to those who promote ‘crude stereotypes’ of Islam in the West and of those who harbor similar stereotypes of America. “President Obama set a new tone for American policy in the Middle East when he emphasized that America will not turn its back on ‘the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.’ His statement that ‘the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements’ sends a clear message to those who would block peace with justice in the region. “We ask that people of all faiths in this nation and around the world use the opportunity presented by this important address to turn the page of history and to join together based on ‘mutual interest and mutual respect’ to create a more peaceful and prosperous future. CAIR and the American Muslim community look forward to working with President Obama to carry out the ambitious agenda he laid out in today’s address.”

It should be noted that CAIR has positioned itself as the champion of Muslim civil rights in the U.S. and has been found to often manipulate hate crime statisitics for its own political purposes.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) statement on the speech also singled out the Obama statement on Israeli settlement as a specific item worthy of praise:

Earlier today, the Muslim Public Affairs Council held a press conference in response to President Barak Obama’s speech in Cairo, Egypt. MPAC leaders hailed the speech as an essential new beginning in Unites States Policy and relationships with the Muslim world. “The President proved he is the best ambassador for America to the Muslim world,” said MPAC Senior Advisor Dr. Maher Hathout. “He demonstrated admirable leadership by addressing issues others are hesitant to explore.” President Obama’s speech distinguished his administration as willing to seriously engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This break from tradition is not only refreshing but highly encouraging. His statement on settlements in the Occupied Territories is a complete shift in policy that gives peace a chance for success.“Our President’s message was clear, he aims to change U.S. foreign policy while asking the Muslim world to re-orient their views towards the United States,” said MPAC Executive Director, Salam Al-Marayati. This shift is a profoundly different approach from past administrations. “By speaking to the pain and challenges of Muslim people’s around the globe, President Obama, is effectively winning Muslim hearts and minds. The new approach is essential in gaining confidence and building a solid relationship between the Unites States and the Muslim world. More importantly, President Obama today dealt a severe blow to bin Laden.” “Responsibility now lays on the shoulders of all of us, as American citizens, to support and implement the President’s plan and to see his promises actualized,” said MPAC Southern California Government Relations Director, Aziza Hasan. A well-articulated message of genuine respect, MPAC calls on all people to join the President’s hopeful tone and ability to reach out and connect to all people. “By quoting the Quran and Islamic history, President Obama demonstrated a willingness and interest in the Muslim world that allows for greater understanding and harmony. He addressed difficult issues head-on while remaining respectful. This new tone, paves an essential path towards a new beginning.”

Recent posts discussed the origin of MPAC leaders in both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO as well as its desire to play an important role in the MIddleast peace process under President Obama.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) statement made reference to what they see as Obama’s “commitment to ensure that Muslim Americans can fulfill their zakat duty, a religious obligation to provide the needy with financial support”, likely a hope that the Obama administration will ease up on the law enforcement pressure placed on Islamic charities such as the Holy Land Foundation, recently convicted of terrorism financing in connection with Hamas.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) welcomes the new approach toward the Middle East and the Muslim world outlined in President Obama’s speech which he delivered today at Cairo University, Egypt. The language and tone of the speech, and the seven issues he addressed, provide a new and fresh start to improve relations with Muslim countries and address serious problems that threatens American security, prosperity, and standing in the world. We are particularly pleased with the President’s acknowledgement of the positive contribution the Islamic faith and Muslim peoples have made to world civilization, as well as with his recognition of the important contributions the growing Muslim American community has made, and continues to make, to America’s wellbeing and prosperity. It is refreshing to see President Obama shift the focus from differences among religious traditions to common values and aspirations. We applaud the president’s recognition of the problems Muslim American charities have been having and the hardship that resulted from the “rules on charitable giving” by federal agencies. We welcome his commitment to ensure that Muslim Americans can fulfill their zakat duty, a religious obligation to provide the needy with financial support. “President Barak Obama’s speech demonstrates that there is no essential dichotomy between America and Islam,” ISNA President Ingrid Mattson stated in response to the speech. “The vast majority of Muslims across the world share with Americans the same aspirations to political freedom, economic prosperity and security for themselves and their families,” she stressed. ISNA agrees with the president that violent extremism is a plague that threatens world peace and security, and stands fully behind his efforts to confront it and protect American life and property. We further commend him for recognizing that defeating violent extremism cannot be achieved by solely relying on military means, but that it requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses the grievances that give rise to anger, disillusion and discontent, including injustice, poverty, occupation, and dictatorship. We share with the president a belief in the importance of coming to terms with significant historical conflicts and injustices, including colonialism, the Holocaust and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. These events have placed our communities in various positions of conflict. Muslims, Jews, Americans and others have all, at various times, been hurt and have sometimes responded to injustice in ways that violate our own principles and values. We come to terms with the past not to be mired in the past, but to be able to move forward to work for peace. We welcome the recognition that the aspirations of the Palestinian people, like those of the Israelis, for security, dignity and statehood are legitimate. We agree with the president that the desired change in relations between the United States and Muslim countries will not happen as the result of statements and speeches, but welcome this vision of a new way forward. We commit to working with other Americans to take the necessary steps to translate his words with action. Finally, we appreciate the President’s recognition of the importance of interfaith cooperation for the common good. ISNA is committed to contribute our share for creating understanding, cooperation, and trust among Muslim Americans and their compatriot who follow other faiths. We have been engaged in vigorous interfaith dialogue for many years with Christian and Jewish communities, and we believe that at no time in the history of the United State has an expansion of this effort been so important to security and peace and prosperity.

ISNA is known to have supported the Holy Land Foundation as well as its successor organizations, all thought to be involved in fundraising for Hamas.

The widespread support by the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood for the Obama speech is likely motivated by both the perceived support for elements of their agenda as well as by a desire to enjoy closer relations with an Obama Administration that had been the case under President Bush.

Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, probably the most influential leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood, has taken a somewhat more cautious approach saying that he welcomed “in principle” the Obama speech address but that the speech alone would not “help in solving problems.” According a Gulf media report:

Islamic scholar Dr Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has welcomed “in principle” US President Barrack Obama’s address to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo but said the speech alone would not help in solving problems. Delivering his Friday sermon at the Omar bin Khattab mosque in Doha, Qaradawi said: “As asserted by the US president the speech is a first step towards interacting with the Muslim world on the basis of mutual respect and common interests,” he was quoted as saying in the Arabic daily Arrayah. “Many people have been too optimistic in their appreciation of what he said. They feel that the US has reversed its policy and has become a friend of the Muslims,” Qaradawi said. Calling it “a naïve reaction”, he said: “On the other hand there are people who have rejected it and called for Obama to be barred from setting foot on Muslim lands. I personally would like to take a middle path.” Qaradawi said: “We should understand that the US is not ruled by one person. It is a country with a set tradition of institutions; it is also committed to a political and historical legacy going back to several centuries. This legacy will not be abandoned or dumped as irrelevant all of a sudden. “One should note the friendly and passive tone in Obama’s speech. What a contrast to his predecessor George W Bush who blurted out that he is waging a war of crusade against the Muslims! He later withdrew the statement saying that it was a slip of the tongue. “The African and Islamic roots of Obama have perhaps induced him to condemn the Israel’s persistence in building Jewish settlements. He did not brand the Hamas as a terrorist movement but said that it is prone to violence. “He focused on the need to achieve peace. In this context he quoted from the Holy Qur’an, the Bible and the Torah. But the Torah only speaks of the Promised Land and the need to wage a war to achieve it. Their God is referred to as the God of the Soldiers. “The time has come for us Muslims all over the world to unite and assert our rights in Palestine, especially the holy city of Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that the followers of all other faiths are united while we Muslim remain in disarray.”

Tariq Ramadan, another important global Brotherhood leader and grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, also adopted a cautious approach reflecting his posture as both a “moderate” and as somebody who base consists of many younger Muslims. Ramadan opened his statement with general praise for the address:

We are used to nice words and many, in the Muslim majority countries as well as Western Muslims, have ended up not trusting the United States when it comes to political discourse. They want actions and they are right. This is indeed what our world needs. Yet, President Obama, who is very eloquent and good at using symbols, has provided us with his speech in Cairo with something that is more than simple words. It is altogether an attitude, a mindset, a vision.In order to avoid shaping a binary vision of the world, Barack Obama referred to “America”, “Islam”, “the Muslims” and “the Muslim majority countries”: he never fell into the trap of speaking about “us” as different or opposed to “them” and he was quick to refer Islam as being an American reality, and to the American Muslims as being an asset to his own society. Talking about his own life, he went from personal to universal stating that he knows by experience that Islam is a religion whose message is about openness and tolerance. Both the wording and the substance of his speech were important and new: he managed to be humble, self-critical, open and demanding at the same time in a message targeting all of “us”, understood as “partners”.

Ramadan then goes on to single out both the statements on Palestinian issue and the Hijab as worthy of particular praise:

The seven areas he highlighted are critical. One might disagree with President Obama’s reading and interpretation of what is happening in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Palestine (and the US role in these conflicts), but he has clearly avoided shying away from addressing these issues and has called all the parties to take their share of responsibility by putting an end to violence and promoting respect and justice. He clearly acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinians and their rights to get a viable and independent State. It is a first necessary step: the future will tell us if the new President has the means to be strong and consistent when dealing with the Israeli government. He left opened some channels as to the dialogue with both the Palestinian authority (calling for unity without sidelining Hamas) and Iran. These were and remain critical issues and there will be no future without addressing them with consistency and courage. Expectations are immense and the Barack Obama has still to show his true practical commitment to justice and peace…..This speech is not only directed to the Muslims around the world. The West and the non Muslims should listen. Barack Obama spoke about acknowledging the historical Islamic contribution to sciences, development and thought. He wants his fellow American citizens to learn more about Islam, to be more humble and he expects from all the “liberals” not to impose their views on the practising Muslims, men and women. No one can impose a way of dressing or a way of thinking and we should learn from one another: the implicit reference to the French controversy around the headscarf was indeed quite explicit. He quoted religious texts that were coming from the three monotheistic faiths, everyone of them delivering a universal message. As if true universalism is about educating one’s self, listening to and respecting the other.

It is also important to note that Ramadan was the only leader who mentioned President Obama’s surprising and erroneous statement that given America’s Muslim population, the U.S. could be considered ” one of the largest Muslim countries in the world,”

Two days before his speech in Cairo, Obama surprisingly stated that America was a great “Islamic country”: it was a way for him to remind the Americans, as well as all the Westerners, that the Muslims are their fellow citizens and Islam is a religion which is part of their common national narrative.

However, like Qaradawi, Ramadan concludes by stating that he is waiting for action from President Obama in addition to words:

A powerful speech which was not only ” a speech”: it embodies a vision both positive and demanding. Something has surely changed. As Barack went from personal to universal principles, we are waiting for him to go from ideal to practical. He is young, he is new, he is intelligent and smart: has he the means of being courageous? For it is all about presidential courage as one wonders if it is possible for the United States to be simply consistent with its own values. Could one man tackles and reforms this extraordinary tension that inhabits the contemporary American mindset : on the one hand, promoting universal values and diversity while on the other nurturing a spirit that still has some features of imperial attitude (intellectually, politically and economically). He will not be able to achieve it alone and maybe his greatest challengers so far are more Indian and Chinese than the Muslims. Yet, it remains critical to acknowledge the positive sides of a speech announcing “a new beginning”: it is imperative for the Muslims to take Obama at his word and, instead of adopting either a passive attitude or a victim mentality to contribute to a better world by being self–critical and critical, humble and ambitious, consistent and open. The best way to push Barack Obama to face up to his responsibility in America, in the Middle East or elsewhere is for the Muslims to start by facing up to their own without blindly demonising America or the West or naively idealising a charismatic African-American US President.

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), the umbrella group representing the global Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, joined the U.S. Brotherhood organizations in a highly favorable reaction, likely reflecting it’s desire to be perceived by Europeans as a “moderate” organization. The FIOE statement also singled out the Hijab issue saying that Obama’s comments on the hijab reflected his commitment “to combating the negative stereotypes of Islam”

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) followed closely the delivered by the United States President Barack Obama on the 4th of June 2009 at Cairo University, to the Muslims of the world. The speech signaled cordiality and appreciation towards Islam and Muslims, far removed from any inclinations of arrogant superiority or the forcefulness of power or the concept of hegemony. The FIOE commends the enlightened conciliatory spirit of the speech, and the clear, positive messages that President Obama directed at Islam, and Muslims wherever they may be, as well as his recognition of the wealth of Islamic contributions to humanity’s inherited civilization. The Federation specifically welcomes the commitment of the American President to combating the negative stereotypes of Islam, through his call for the protection of religious freedom for Muslims in the West, including the personal and religious rights of Muslim women in choosing their dress-code, over and above highlighting the added value of having diversity in our communities and in the world. President Obama stressed the importance of avoiding the mistakes of the past, both recent and far, and expressed his determination in having a “new beginning “based on mutual respect between the United States and the Islamic world. This has created aspirations in the world that the speech will put an end to an era characterized by war, military interventions and occupation, and that it can surpass the logic of segregating the world into “good and evil”, with all that this era has established of rancor between people, extremist disputes, and racism, hatred and hostility towards Islam. The spirit of commitment to the values of concord, enlightenment and justice that President Obama expressed in his speech, deserves a serious review of American strategies and foreign policy, in order to synchronize with this spirit, in such a way that it can be tangibly felt by people around the world, who will undoubtedly welcome any remedial steps. Our world is in dire need of building on common ground that will accommodate all people, with a sincere commitment to the principles of righteousness, justice and fairness, as well as renouncing hostility and conserving the dignity of humanity, and respecting the rights of people in making choices. There is no doubt that this requires a reinforcement of the spirit of reconciliation and raising the voices of wisdom and moderation while silencing those that call for the conflict of civilizations and cultural clashes, and the inciters of malice. It is clear that decision makers in our world today must be aware of their responsibilities, and must express these noble human values in their words, deeds and stances, over and above focusing on the challenges on our planet that we must all face in unity. The Federation, as one of the largest European Muslim Organization, in welcoming President Obama’s speech, calls for reinforcing, developing and building upon it, for the benefit of all humanity.

The Hijab issue has been particularly important to FIOE in the past.

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