Connect to share and comment

Obama's speech: The view from Amman

MARKA, Jordan — On the grimy edge of Amman, in an area that’s home to one of Jordan’s major Palestinian refugee camps, President Barack Obama’s message from Cairo was little more than background noise.

Moments before the President began his address to the Muslim world one shopkeeper stared blankly at a television broadcasting Quranic recitation. He hadn’t heard anything about Obama giving a speech. His neighbor hadn’t either and said he wouldn’t watch it anyway. “I’m not interested in politics. Only Islam.”

As Obama works to build a bridge to the Muslim world, he may have a difficult time reaching arguably the most important audience — conservative, lower-middle class Muslims. While many in Jordan’s capital think highly of Obama, just a few miles from the home of the notorious Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Obama is seen as only a slight improvement over former President George Bush.

“Bush was white and Obama is black. That’s the only difference,” says Mohamed Khalil, a pharmacist who said there was no point to watching the speech.

The sentiment was echoed by countless Marka residents, who say they’re tired of hearing American politicians’ promises and plans that rarely come to fruition. In a falafel shop playing an Arabic translation of Obama’s speech on television, many patrons walked in, shouted an obscenity at the screen, got their lunch and left.

These reactions will likely not come as a surprise to Obama, who acknowledged in his address that, “no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust.”

Those willing to listen, however, say they were pleased with what they heard. Obama hit many of the key concerns for Jordanians and Palestinians, namely his support of a two-state solution and call for an end to Israeli settlements and fair treatment for residents of Gaza.

But like many other Arabs jaded by countless failed peace talks, restaurant manager Ahmed Saed wants to see Obama take action before he’ll give him any real support. “He’s the first black president and he’s of Muslim origin so he’s knowledgeable about Islam. His words were excellent about the two-state solution,” he says. “If he said the right things, Israel will get angry.”