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Obama chooses Egypt for address to Muslims

The president's promised speech to Muslims worldwide will be June 4 during a multinational trip.

May 09, 2009|Christi Parsons

WASHINGTON — President Obama will deliver his promised address to Muslims worldwide from Egypt, a nation the White House considers key to improving relations in the Middle East.

Obama had said he would make the speech from a Muslim capital, but the country was not disclosed until Friday.

"This is a continuing effort of the president to engage the Muslim world," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "The president has high hopes for a stronger relationship."

The speech will be June 4 during a trip that will also take Obama to Germany and France. Relations between Egypt and the United States have been tense at times, with the Bush administration calling on President Hosni Mubarak to make a commitment to democratic reforms and ease the repression of political dissidents.

"Many people look at Egypt and see one of the more severely authoritarian countries in the Arab world," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

At the same time, Alterman cited the intellectual influence Egypt has in charting the direction of Islam -- and its potential to affect the security threat against the U.S.

In addition, Egypt, with a population of 83 million, is one of the most populous Muslim countries that Obama could have chosen for the speech.

The choice calls to mind the address that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave in Cairo in 2005, in which she called for democracy in the Middle East and criticized Egypt for its intolerance of dissent.

Obama is trying to start anew with Mubarak, who will be visiting the White House this month.

The day after his address, Obama is expected to travel to the former Buchenwald concentration camp in Dresden, Germany. His great-uncle, Charles Payne, whom Obama often mentioned in his campaign speeches, took part in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a satellite labor camp of Buchenwald during World War II. Payne was a private first class in the 89th Infantry Division.

On June 6, the president will take part in activities commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-day, the beginning of the Allied invasion of Europe.

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cparsons@latimes.com

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