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Friday, June 05, 2009

Rep. Keith Ellison, Congress's First Muslim, Explains the Significance of Obama's Trip to Middle East

President Obama embarks this week on a long-anticipated visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt in North Africa and the Middle East. It's a region that, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corps. poll, 46 percent of Americans regard unfavorably. And with the President's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan and block the release of detainee abuse photos, among other U.S. policies, many in the Middle East harbor a similar mistrust of the United States.
During his trip-particularly in a critical speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday—the President seeks to engage with global Muslim communities and bridge some of the differences that have divided them and the United States. ESSENCE.com caught up with Representative Keith Ellison, an African-American orthodox Sunni Muslim (and the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress) several days after he returned from a trip to Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. Here he gives his take on President Obama's image in the Middle East, anti-Muslim sentiment at home, and what he thinks the President must do to strengthen the United States' relationship with Muslims here and around the world.
ESSENCE.COM: You've taken four trips to the Middle East since December. What are some of the impressions that people have there of President Obama?
CONGRESSMAN KEITH ELLISON: Obama's wildly popular in the Middle East. There are bazaar marketplaces called souks, and in nearly every Middle Eastern souk I went to I found Obama T-shirts. Everybody talked about the new mood and atmosphere in the region, and people feel that the United States has made Middle East peace a priority. So there's a tremendous amount of positive support for President Obama. But there is this other idea, that the signaling that President Obama has done must be met with substantive changes in U.S. policy. That is something we have yet to see happen, and so we have raised expectations. There's a general feeling that it is now time to start really delivering. LinkHere


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