Obama’s Cairo Speech at 15

June 3, 2024

Explore the Series

On June 4, 2009, President Barack Obama delivered his “A New Beginning” speech to the global Muslim community in Cairo, Egypt. The speech’s fifteenth anniversary comes at a moment of renewed conflict in the Middle East and of intensified criticism of U.S. foreign policy among many Muslims at home and abroad.

Arriving in the Oval Office at a low point for the United States’ international image, Obama sought to foster “a new beginning,” particularly with the Muslim world. In Cairo he called for a “sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.” His speech addressed seven challenging issues that had strained U.S.-Muslim world relations: violent extremism, Israel/Palestine, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights, and economic development.

The Cairo speech was greeted with significant enthusiasm around the world, and Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize later that year. The speech sparked a flurry of new and revitalized U.S. government activity in Washington and at U.S. posts overseas. However, a public narrative soon began to develop that the New Beginning was just a speech without any practical impact. Today the speech is largely forgotten, but this fifteenth anniversary provides a moment to consider the Cairo speech’s lessons and legacies afresh.

The Berkley Forum asks: What is the legacy of the speech, particularly as it shaped how the U.S. government engages with Muslim and other religious audiences? What lessons might current officials learn from the successes and failures of the broader New Beginning? What contemporary relevance does the New Beginning have as the United States continues to confront the same set of challenges Obama addressed in Cairo?

Opens in a new window