Barack who? Arabs weigh in.
Senator Obama is an unknown quantity as he tours the Middle East.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
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It's not that she dislikes presidential contender Obama. "I saw him on Tyra Banks's show and I think he has great opinions," says the 17-year-old high schooler. But his policies have not roused Najla, who's only heard "some random stuff ... here and there."
Senator Obama's campaign may have launched groundswells of hope, ardor, and optimism at home and in Europe. But at the start of his closely watched trip to the Middle East, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee is little known in the Arab world, and has yet to generate widespread interest or enthusiasm.
But even those who like Obama's personality are not expecting him to initiate major turnabouts on US Middle East policies, particularly on the most contentious one of all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The only way that Obama will be better for us is that he will try to suck the life out of the Arabs through diplomacy, while Bush tried to do it through war," says Fathy Tantawy as he inspects a small carburetor on the table next to his tea cup in a Cairo cafe.
"When they look at the Middle East they all have the same thoughts, whether it's Obama or Clinton's wife or Bush or … who is that other guy on TV?" He pauses to think. "Oh yeah, McCain."
A vast and volatile region, the Middle East stretches from Atlantic-washed Casablanca to hill-encircled Tehran. It is home to 340 million Arabs, 65 million Iranians, and almost 6 million Jews in Israel.
The region is vital to US interests as the main source of the world's oil. It also is the birthplace of Islam and the hottest battleground in the global struggle between Muslim moderates and extremists.
Obdurately resistant to democratization, the area also contains some of the world's most vexing problems: Iran's nuclear-enrichment program, an unstable Iraq, a fractured Lebanon, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.