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Arab Street is Mostly Optimistic About Obama After First 100 Days

The proverbial Arab street is mostly optimistic about U.S. President Barack Obama, despite some skepticism and a desire for more concrete action on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Optimism, tinged with a pinch of skepticism, prevails on the streets of the Arab world as U.S. President Barack Obama marks his first 100 days in office. Despite concerns about a lack of concrete action towards issues Arab public opinion deems important, most Arabs appear to admire the new U.S. president.

Issues such as the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison, the decision to prohibit the torture of prisoners, and Mr. Obama's pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq by August of 2010, have created a generally favorable opinion of the new U.S. administration.

In Iraq, Baghdad resident Abu Ammar says he is pleased by President Obama's policies and recent course of action.

He says that 100 days have passed since President Obama assumed power in America, and Iraqis, in general, are very happy that he is going to withdraw American troops from Iraq. He praises the president for what he calls his moderate policies towards Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran.

A hotel manager from Aleppo, Syria, Maher Raghban, says he hopes Mr. Obama's policies continue on the same course.

Mr. Obama, he says, is very good and he has changed policies dramatically from those of George (W.) Bush. Hopefully, he adds, things will continue in the right direction in the Middle East and keep improving, especially with respect to Syria and Iran. He insists that he is very optimistic, in general.

The president of Haigazian University in Beirut, Paul Haidostian, has a finger on the pulse of young people in Lebanon.

"I think the first 100 days of President Obama have been generally positive, due to the humility of the messages towards the Middle East, towards the people of the region, and the various justice issues," Haidostian said. "This does not mean that all is positive, because, by nature and experience, the people in the Middle East are suspicious ... ... suspicious of Western intentions in general and double-standards as it has been perceived in the Middle East."

Cairo University Professor Mohamed Kamal sits on the Education and Youth Committee of the upper house of the Egyptian parliament. He says he thinks Arabs have a generally favorable view of President Obama, despite some misgivings.

"I think that people still have a favorable view of Obama," Kamal said. "He speaks a different language. He is in favor of engagement with the Muslim world, with the Arab world. He says he is going to be committed to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, to withdrawing from Iraq, and all that is positive. However, people have not seen any concrete action from his administration, yet. Especially with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict and how to create a Palestinian state. But, in general, after 100 days of his administration, people still have a positive view of him."

Analyst Oraib Rantawi of the al Quds Center for Political Studies, in Amman, Jordan, is a bit more skeptical about President Obama's capacity to change U.S. policies, despite the good will he has created.

"I think the Arab street is still waiting to see some concrete steps taken by President Obama," Rantawi said. "They keep listening to his promises and his goodwill ... to his moderate approach towards the Middle East, issues, challenges, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. But until now there are no concrete steps. Therefore, people prefer to wait and see, rather than to judge from now whether Obama will adopt a good approach or not. Usually the Arab street are skeptic(al) towards the administration ... and there is a stereotype when it comes to the United States and the U.S. relation with Israel and with Arabs."

Rantawi says many Arabs were disappointed that President Obama chose not to attend the recent U.N. conference on racism in Geneva, and the continuing U.S. support for Israeli positions. Nonetheless, he argues, "the people and the leaders of the Middle East do not want to close the door" on his new way of doing things.