A day before President Obama was to give a widely anticipated speech in Cairo, Egypt, the administration was using online networking tools to further reach out to the Muslim world.
“In the spirit of engagement, we invited the international audience to submit comments via text message,” reads a page at America.gov, which will begin posting messages as soon as Obama’s speech begins, about 6:10 a.m. ET Thursday. People at the site may also sign up to receive text-message highlights from the speech. The service is available only for people living outside the United States. The form is available in English, Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Obama’s speech, which he will deliver at the Great Hall at Cairo University to an anticipated crowd of about 3,000, will be an effort to improve the image of the United States among Muslims. That image has been tarnished in the eyes of many of the world’s estimated 1 billion Muslims who have been critical of the U.S. role in the Middle East over the past few years. “The speech will outline his personal commitment to engagement, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week. “He will discuss how the United States and Muslim communities around the world can bridge some of the differences that have divided them.
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“He will review particular issues of concern, such as violent extremism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he will discuss new areas for partnership going forward that serve the mutual interests of our people.” Obama revolutionized the use of technology as a political tool during his presidential campaign and in March became the first president to address questions from the public live on the Internet. Political observers believe that his administration wants to use the power of the Web to create a more transparent style of governing that will help win public support. In that vein, the White House also has taken talk about Obama’s Cairo speech to the social-networking site Facebook. Administration officials estimate that there are 20 million users of Facebook in the Arab countries and are setting up live chats on the site to get a conversation going online. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem has created a page “[a]s part of our continued efforts to develop and strengthen cooperation with our Palestinian and international audience.” The page’s lone discussion topic, “What are your expectations of the Speech” had just one response as of Wednesday afternoon.