US Promises New Mideast Development Initiatives

    President Barack Obama, in a June 4 speech delivered in Cairo, outlined a number of new development assistance programs focusing on the Muslim world.

    In his speech, Obama said there was no need for a "contradiction between development and tradition." He said countries like Japan and South Korea experienced dramatic growth while retaining their distinct cultures.

    Obama went on to say that the United States sought a "broader engagement" with Muslim countries beyond the U.S.-Middle East energy relationship. He said despite the Middle East's enormous oil wealth, many countries there continue to under-invest in education, economic growth and entrepreneurship.

    In an effort to promote investment in these areas, Obama proposed a number of programs.

    He said: "On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

    "On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

    "On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health."

    Obama's remarks were short on specifics. It's also unclear what role, if any, the U.S. Agency for International Development would play in these programs. But the president has made a commitment to additional outreach in the Middle East, and potentially opened up a new market for development work. It remains to be seen whether the newly announced initiatives will prompt the creation of new offices or departments with the U.S. Department of State or USAID.

    About the author

    • David Francis

      David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette,, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.