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Obama Calls for New Beginning With World's Muslims
"There has been a breach, an undeniable breach between America and the Islamic world, and that breach has been years in the making," said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama. "It is not going to be reversed in one speech. It is not going to be reversed perhaps in one administration. But the president is a strong believer in open, honest dialogue."
Egypt's state-run television channel is covering Obama's visit live, moment by moment. Footage of Egyptian and American flags standing side by side serves as visual wallpaper for viewers, many of whom gathered throughout a bright morning at cafes to watch the speech together. For a few hours, Egypt's thriving Facebook generation has enjoyed the café camaraderie of earlier ones.
Hundreds of people who had been invited to hear the speech live had to pass through several layers of security to enter the grand domed building, a campus landmark.
Inside, two layers of balconies peer onto a stage where six pairs of Egyptian and American flags served as Obama's backdrop. Red curtains matched the red carpets that ran along the aisles, and gold-leaf trim highlighted the arches and domes of the hall.
There were no obvious protests surrounding the visit, save one. The liberal activist group Code Pink held up a banner of the same color outside the university entrance that read "End the Siege of Gaza" in English and Arabic.
Egyptian security forces did nothing to stop the demonstration. But no Egyptian protesters were visible, a testament to Mubarak's control and, perhaps, gratitude.
The attention surrounding Obama's address and his first visit to Saudi Arabia was underscored Wednesday by a pair of messages from Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Shortly after Obama landed in Riyadh, the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera aired an audiotape of bin Laden sharply criticizing U.S. policy in Pakistan and accusing Obama of planting seeds for "revenge and hatred" in the Muslim world. The message said Obama is following President George W. Bush's policy of "antagonizing Muslims," and bin Laden warned Americans of "consequences" to come. U.S. officials did not dispute the tape's authenticity even though bin Laden, once a Saudi citizen, has not been seen for years.
A day earlier, Zawahiri urged Egyptians to shun Obama during his visit, saying his trip was at the invitation of the "torturers of Egypt" and the "slaves of America." Zawahiri, a doctor by training, was imprisoned in Egypt for his radical Islamist political beliefs until 1984.
Briefing reporters here, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "I don't think it's surprising that al-Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts and continued efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world."