MELISSA BLOCK, host:
As we mentioned, Barack Obama is now in Israel. Tomorrow, he wraps up the Middle East portion of his travels with meetings in both Israel and the West Bank. So, how is Obama being received by the Middle Eastern media?
As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo, the Arab media seem impressed with Obama the man, but increasingly dismayed by his policy ideas for the region.
PETER KENYON: American elections may fascinate the world, but they also look very different when viewed from abroad. Take for example the debate over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's apparent concurrence with Senator Obama's goal of removing U.S. troops from Iraq by 2010.
In the Mideast, the debates centers on whether Iraqi security forces will be ready to take over by then, not whether Maliki was favoring the Democrats over the Republicans. In the Middle East, there appears to be a general preference for Obama. The exception is Israel, where many Jewish Israelis remain suspicious of Obama's commitment to Israel, and the public comment tends to favor Republican John McCain.
In the right-leaning Jerusalem Post last month, one op-ed writer described several of Obama's current and former advisers as anti-Israel, condemning one whose, quote, "dovish views are public knowledge."
But even the Israeli right wing applauded when Obama told AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that Jerusalem, quote, "will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," angering Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as their future capital.
Obama later clarified that statement, but in the Arab world, disillusionment was already spreading fast.
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KENYON: In a Cairo coffee shop, newspaper editor Mohammed Sayed Said says Arab commentators are increasingly warning that Obama's slogan of change is unlikely to extend to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr. MOHAMMED SAYED SAID (Editor, Al-Badeel): He is viewed here as totally biased towards Israel and captured by the Zionist lobby in the United States. And as he also moved away from his left-wing position towards the center or even occasionally to the right, press coverage of Obama has become very, very negative indeed.
KENYON: Well before his comments to AIPAC, a columnist in Egypt's pro-government Al-Ahram Weekly argued that, quote, "precisely at the moment that Obama's moral voice was most needed, he fell so sadly short, and the reach of his moral wings proved to be cautiously perforated on an AIPAC line.
On the other hand, some of the things that cause Obama supporters in the U.S. to lose sleep help Arabs to feel a real connection with the Democrat. When American conservatives talk derisively of Barack Hussein Obama, both Muslim and Christian Arabs think not of an Obama political weakness, but that anti-Arab racism is alive and well in some corners of the American political discourse.
Editor Mohammed Said says there is a deep-rooted sentiment here that this son of a black Muslim father and a white Christian mother gets it when it comes to racial and religious hatred, and that alone makes many people here eager to see him in the White House.
Mr. SAID: This one-of-us mythology can be the man of the poor worldwide, can be the man of the oppressed, he can be the man of the minorities. But I think, broadly speaking, he continues to be, quote, unquote, "one of us," competing for the top job of the United States.
KENYON: On one point, there is little dispute - the Arab world cannot wait for the next American president.
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KENYON: This cartoon posted on Al-Jazeera's English-language Web site shows an old man asking a young boy what he sees in a series of pictures. The first shows Hillary Clinton ending her campaign, which the boy calls decisive democracy. The second shows Obama delivering pizza to the troops in Iraq, which the boy labels difficult democracy. The third shows President Bush in combat fatigues carrying Senator McCain in his arms. The boy's verdict: disastrous democracy.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.
BLOCK: And you can read what writers in other parts of the world are saying about Obama's trip at npr.org.
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