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Obama's speech: The view from Rabat

When Anouar Mehdaoui and two friends stopped for a brief snack at one of many French-style street cafes that dot Morocco's capital city, they had no idea President Barack Obama was giving a speech addressing the Muslim world.

“We didn’t even know he was in Egypt,” Mehdaoui said.

The 31-year-old rental car agency manager and two female friends, a translator and a Moroccan emigre to Spain on a visit home, sipped coffee among a sparse crowd of students, retirees and workers taking a late-morning break in a cafe where the speech played live. And like most other patrons, they glanced at the large flat-screen television on the wall only occasionally, during lulls in conversation.

Like the rest of the trio, Samar Souehqate, 33, praised the president while criticizing American policy in Israel and Palestine.

“I think he’s a good man. He’s a good man,” Souehqate said. “He’s peaceful. He seeks peace.” But she disapproved of America’s support of Israel, adding, “I prefer the American people to American politics. I’m opposed to the politics.”

A recent Zogby poll of seven Muslim countries found that 76 percent of Moroccans — more than any other country surveyed — cite Iraq or the Arab-Israeli conflict as the issue most central to their opinion of the administration’s policy in the region.

That’s true for El Hassania El Abrichi, 42, an insurance agent who’s between jobs. She listened to the speech while smoking Marlboro cigarettes and doing a crossword puzzle.

“I think, relatively speaking, Obama is better than Bush. He seeks peace. He’s good for peace,” she said. But, she said, “Obama is afraid of opposing the politics of Israel.”

Listening from outside, Allal Jharrbaoui, 68, a retired soldier, had a more optimistic perspective, "I’m happy with his speech. He wants to make peace with Arabs, peace with the world in general.”

The most intent listener in the cafe audience was not Moroccan. Graduate student Ahmed Said Alagha, 26, moved from Gaza to study in Rabat. He also praised Obama as a man of peace, and praised his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There’s something different about Barack Obama. In his first months as president, he’s talking about Israel and Palestine. Before, American presidents start their terms by talking about the situation inside of the U.S.,” Alagha said.

But, he added, words are not actions.