Egyptian Writer Seeks 'Substantive' Obama Speech President Obama makes his much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world Thursday in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptian novelist and Guardian political commentator Ahdaf Soueif says she hopes the speech is more about politics and less about culture.
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Egyptian Writer Seeks 'Substantive' Obama Speech

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Egyptian Writer Seeks 'Substantive' Obama Speech

Egyptian Writer Seeks 'Substantive' Obama Speech

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, two conversations about what Muslims want to hear from President Obama in Cairo tomorrow. We begin with an Egyptian view. Ahdaf Soueif is an Egyptian novelist and political commentator. She identifies with the secular left. She divides her time between Britain and Egypt. And I asked her what Egyptians are looking for in the president's speech.

Ms. AHDAF SOUEIF (Novelist, Political Commentator): People really would like to hear something substantive, rather than, sort of, affirmations that Islam is a great culture and so on. I mean, I think it would really be quite nice if the president's speech was addressed to everybody, like, to all the people of the world. The whole - the constant, sort of, pinpointing of Muslims and the Muslim world that's become, sort of, so much a part of western discourse over the last decade is really something that President Obama needs to turn away from. It was very much the discourse of the previous administration, and even when it's used to say, oh, you know, Islam is a great faith and we have no problem with it, it is still fudging the issues, because the issues are political.

SIEGEL: Well, when you speak of those issues, you mean what, for example?

Ms. SOUEIF: Well, topmost in everybody's mind, really, is the question of Palestine. That is absolutely at the center of all the conflicts in the region - the conflicts that we're living through, the ones that we've had and the possible ones looming in the future. And the president has already spoken about settlements. We need to hear more.

SIEGEL: President Obama speaks as an American president whose armed forces are still in Iraq in large numbers. More are headed to a non-Arab, but to a Muslim country, Afghanistan, and the U.S. concern over Pakistan is also growing. Do those theaters compete with the interest in Palestine as foremost in the minds of his Cairo audience? Or is…

Ms. SOUEIF: They are tremendously important. They're tremendously important. And there are other things, from small to big, from, I mean, like, for example, in Cairo one of our grievances is the fact that the American Embassy in Garden City is a fortress, and has no relationship to anything around it and roadblocks - and makes everybody's lives miserable and it's, really, sort of emblematic of what our relationship with the United States has become over the last eight years. So there are all manner of issues, but if one had to choose one, I think everybody would choose Palestine.

SIEGEL: If, in fact, the speech is received by Muslims - and by Egyptians, for that matter, as platitudinous, as not being a real action plan, what would be the consequences of that? Would much be lost, do you think, by President Obama making this speech?

Ms. SOUEIF: Well, it would be an opportunity lost. I mean, this is a really great opportunity to put forward new policies, to put forward a new vision for the relationship between the U.S. and this part of the world. And it would be excellent if it was more political and less cultural.

SIEGEL: Ahdaf Soueif, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Ms. SOUEIF: Thank you, Robert, pleasure to be with you.

SIEGEL: Ahdaf Soueif is the author, of among other books, "The Map of Love." She is an Egyptian writer and also a commentator.

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