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Obama Calls On Muslims for a 'New Beginning' With U.S.
He criticized Iran, Israel, the Palestinians and the United States, but he stopped short of apologizing for past U.S. policies as American conservatives warned he would.
Much of his mission was to convince Muslims that the United States is "not, and never will be, at war with Islam," reiterating a statement he made in Turkey two months ago. He described the rich role Muslims have played in American life since the country's founding. He noted that Thomas Jefferson kept a copy of the Koran in his personal library, and he told the audience of professors, political and religious leaders, students, and others that "there is a mosque in every state of our union."
"Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire," he said. "The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, reviled by the political opposition here for his iron grasp on the media and the security forces he often deploys against them, welcomed Obama with a lavish ceremony at the Qubba Palace, where the two discussed Middle East peace efforts and Iran's nuclear program. They later walked around the 13th-century Sultan Hassan Mosque and toured the pyramids.
In his speech, one of the longest he has given and the centerpiece of his five-day trip through the Middle East and Europe, Obama used stronger and more specific language than he has previously on some of the most contested issues in the Muslim world.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama said: "America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable." Citing the slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, Obama said that "threatening Israel with destruction, or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews, is deeply wrong," a tacit reference to Iran's government. The audience did not applaud.
At the same time, Obama said, "it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland."
"They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation," he said, using a term he did not use after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last month. "So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable."
Obama criticized Israel's policy of building in lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, saying "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." He said that "it is time for these settlements to stop," while calling on the Palestinians to "abandon violence."
"For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation" he said. "But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America 's founding."
Obama acknowledged the "controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years," but he stated clearly for an audience that included some who oppose Mubarak's autocratic administration that "governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure."
"No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other," Obama said. But he added that "I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things," citing freedom of speech, self-government and the rule of law, among other principles.
"He was very focused and mentioned many critical elements to us," said Saneya Mohammed Rizk, 58, a Cairo University professor of community health nursing, her hair wrapped tightly in a scarf.
In addressing women's rights in his speech, Obama said to applause: "I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality."
"I believe he will be able to accomplish this goal," Rizk said of Obama's ambition to begin again with the Islamic world. "He has the intent to cooperate with us, and that is good."