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Obama Arrives in Egypt for Speech

By Scott Wilson
CAIRO -- For miles, every 50 feet or so, stands a black-clad member of the Egyptian security forces. Roads usually snarled with traffic today flow as smoothly as country lanes.

This famously raucous city is largely shut down, hours after President Obama arrived to deliver a highly anticipated address to the Islamic world.

And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, reviled by the political opposition here for his iron grasp on the media and the security forces he often deploys, is expressing his imperial gratitude to Obama for choosing this storied city for his speech.

Obama arrived here from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just after 9 a.m. local time. He was greeted at the airport by Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and taken swiftly to Qubba Palace, where the motorcade was escorted up the long drive by 21 horses.

The high measure of pomp appeared unusual to some even for a visiting head of state.

Obama joined Mubarak on a palace balcony for the welcoming ceremony, featuring each country's national anthem. The two then met privately for about 20 minutes.

Obama said afterward that, among other issues, the two leaders discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and "how we can move forward in a constructive way that brings about peace and prosperity for all people in the region."

The U.S. president will give his "personal view" of the conflict, his aides have said, during what is expected to be a 45-minute speech early this afternoon.

Egypt's state-run television channel is covering Obama's visit live, moment by moment. Footage of Egyptian and American flags standing side by side serves as visual wallpaper for viewers, many of whom gathered throughout a bright morning at cafes to watch the speech together. For a few hours, Egypt's thriving Facebook generation enjoyed the café camaraderie of earlier ones.

Security forces lined the streets into downtown, apparently blocking exit from some poorer neighborhoods along the main routes. The wide avenues around Cairo University, where Obama will speak just after 1 p.m. local time (6:10 a.m. EST), were shut down for blocks around the campus.

Several layers of security swept hundreds of invitees to the speech, which Obama will deliver in a grand domed building that serves as a campus landmark. Inside, two layers of balconies peer onto a stage where six pairs of Egyptian and American flags will serve as Obama's backdrop. Red curtains match the red carpets that run along aisles, and gold-leaf trim highlights the arches and domes of the hall.

There were no obvious protests surrounding the visit, save one. The liberal activist group Code Pink held up a banner of the same color outside the university entrance that read "End the Siege of Gaza" in English and Arabic.

Egyptian security forces did nothing to stop the demonstration. But no Egyptian protesters were visible, a testament to Mubarak's control and, perhaps, gratitude.

By Washington Post Editor  |  June 4, 2009; 5:17 AM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , B_Blog , Barack Obama , Foggy Bottom  
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Why is nuclear power a viable energy source for Iran but not for America?

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