CBS’s Pelley: Middle East Chaos Not ‘What’ Obama ‘Had in Mind’ in Cairo Speech from 2009

On Wednesday’s CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley devoted a few moments after a news brief on the Iran deal negotiations to explaining the centuries-long divide between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam and, in the process, also took time to reflect on President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, Egypt on June 4, 2009.

After noting that the negotiations are taking place “against a backdrop of a disintegrating Middle East,”  Pelley fretted that, for Obama, “this isn’t what he had in mind” following the speech where the President had “declared a new beginning for the Arab world.”

Pelley then lamented how “[t]he first democratic Egyptian government was overthrown in a military coup” along with the fact that “Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have all collapsed in civil war.”

Turning to the broader issue of the divide in Islam itself, Pelley used a map of the region to lay out where Shiites and Sunnis each reside and briefly explain for viewers why they’ve been fighting for so long [see video above for the shaded map]:

It’s a new beginning for a 1300-year-old conflict between the two branches of Islam. Have a look at the battle lines, not by country but by faith. Saudi Arabia is home to the Sunnis in red. Iran is home to the Shiites in yellow. This religious war is being fought in Yemen to the south, Iraq to the north, and in Syria. Islam fractured in the seventh century over who would lead after Mohammed.

Back when the President gave his Cairo speech, CBS News heaped droves of praise on him for both what he said and his performance. On June 4's The Early Show, then co-host Julie Chen gushed that Obama had given such “a historical speech” while then co-host Harry Smith ruled it to be a “powerful, far-ranging speech this morning.” 

Smith went on to add that Obama “was not only presidential, he was also professional” and “was giving Americans and Muslims a history lesson.” Later in the program, Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer expressed agreement with Smith’s assessment and predicted that the speech from “Professor Obama...will have an impact.”

The transcript of the brief from the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on April 1 is transcribed below.

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
April 1, 2015
6:40 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Islamic Divide]

SCOTT PELLEY: The Iranian talks are being held against a backdrop of a disintegrating Middle East. It was back in 2009 in Cairo that President Obama declared a new beginning for the Arab world, but this isn’t what he had in mind. The first democratic Egyptian government was overthrown in a military coup. Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have all collapsed in civil war. It’s a new beginning for a 1300-year-old conflict between the two branches of Islam. Have a look at the battle lines, not by country but by faith. Saudi Arabia is home to the Sunnis in red. Iran is home to the Shiites in yellow. This religious war is being fought in Yemen to the south, Iraq to the north, and in Syria. Islam fractured in the seventh century over who would lead after Mohammed.

NB Daily Foreign Policy Africa Egypt Iran Iraq Israel/Palestine Middle East Religion Islam CBS CBS Evening News Video President Barack Obama President Obama Muslim Brotherhood Scott Pelley Barack Obama
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