On June 4, 2009, President Obama traveled to Cairo University, greeted Egyptians with "assalam aleikum," or peace be upon you, and charmed the Islamic world.
"Under the past administration, there was a feeling that the Islamic world was a group of terrorists, Islam was hated and Muslims should be watched..." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told Reuters at the time. "But Obama came and said, 'We will not fight Muslims and Islam.' He is a sympathetic man..."
Obama chiseled away at the anti-American sentiment of the Arab world with his words. "I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," he said. He got it.
But now, 17 months later, the stagnant conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and domestic anti-Islamic sentiment -- in the form of the Cordoba community center and Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who threatened to burn a Quran this summer--have sullied Obama's clean slate. In 2008, six percent of Egyptians approved of U.S. leadership. After Obama's speech, the number rose to 37 percent. In April of 2010, it was 19 percent. Gallup polls show similar numbers in other Arabic countries.
"There's still a perception out there that the U.S. is still at war with the Muslim world," explains Steven Simon, an adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. We have deepened our commitment in Afghanistan, left Iraq unstable, and are increasingly confrontational toward Iran. Our diplomatic battle with Iran is widely seen among Muslims as "the U.S. picking another enemy in the Muslim world," Simon says.