Workers Polish Cairo Ahead Of Obama's Visit
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Obama will be speaking at Cairo University. And though Egypt is a long-standing ally of the United States, many Egyptians are frustrated with the government of President Hosni Mubarak who's ruled for nearly three decades. There's also been frustration with U.S. policy in the region in recent years.
Joining us now is NPR's Deborah Amos who's been following preparations for the president's visit. Good morning.
DEBORAH AMOS: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tell us what has been going on in the city in advance of the president's arrival. I know they've been painting the area that he's going to speak in.
AMOS: Painting, washing, primping, hedge clipping, I saw a water truck yesterday that was washing down the traffic lights. There has been a massive cleanup on the president's route in from the airport into the city, as well as here at Cairo University where I'm standing out in front of the hall where the president will speak.
MONTAGNE: This is a private group that he's speaking to. Tell us about the guest list for the speech.
AMOS: It's a significant guest list, Renee, because the U.S. Embassy had a hand in some parts of the list and have invited the range of Cairo opposition, from the bloggers - in particular one called Sandmonkey, who is a permanent blogger in Cairo, all the way to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist opposition. Now they are banned in Cairo, but they do own this independence in the Parliament. They have 88 seats there, 11 who are invited. Just a little while ago Barbara Ibrahim walked by me. Her husband, Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a leading dissident. He is not in Cairo because there are still charges pending against him.
MONTAGNE: And we spoke to him yesterday on this program. He's here in the United States.
AMOS: Indeed, and I asked her about that as she walked by and she said, well of course he's sad that misses it, but he can't endanger his own safety. What the guest list has done is brought the entire range of the opposition together under one roof, something that the Mubarak government would never do.
MONTAGNE: Did Mr. Obama get any pushback on filling this hall with dissidents?
AMOS: As far as we know, there was no pushback from the Mubarak government, but as far as we know, they were able to invite those people. That list was closely held. It's been leaking out over the past couple of days. It is significant. The opposition sees it as significant that they have all been invited from the most liberal of the bloggers to the most conservative of the Muslim Brotherhood. It really is unprecedented for an American president to reach out to that wide range of opposition in Egypt.
MONTAGNE: And given the invitation, was there any group or person who decided not to come?
AMOS: There was. This morning, the local press reported that one opposition group, Kefaya, which is in English - Enough - formed a few years ago to protest against the policies of this regime. They announced that they would be boycotting Obama's speech. They said they would do so because they wanted deeds not words. They are protesting the situation in Gaza and they said that they would not come today.
MONTAGNE: And you've been there for some days now, Deb, what are you hearing on the streets of Cairo?
AMOS: There is excitement among some parts of the city. This city also has a large segment of very poor people who are not paying attention one bit to what is happening here. What they know is that the streets are filled with security people. Many people stayed home. I have never seen the streets of Cairo as empty as they were this morning as we were driving to Cairo University. I've never seen so many security trucks, security police on the streets. So even if you wanted to go to work this morning, it would be very difficult to get there.
MONTAGNE: Deb, thanks very much.
AMOS: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Deborah Amos speaking to us from Cairo where President Obama will be speaking later today.
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