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Poll: Obama, headed to Middle East, is winning Arab hearts

WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama prepares to journey to Egypt on June 4 to address the Muslim world, his overtures to the Middle East are paying off in positive feelings towards him from Arab peoples that far outpace the region's critical view of the United States itself, according to a new McClatchy/Ipsos Poll.

The poll of six Arab nations found that residents think that Obama will have a positive impact on the Middle East — a region marked by war, religious disputes, ethnic and sectarian violence — as well as on the United States and the rest of the world.

Obama scored highest in Jordan, where 58 percent of its citizens have a favorable opinion of him, 29 percent have an unfavorable view, 6 percent had no opinion and 7 percent didn't know.

Saudi Arabians have a 53 percent favorable opinion of Obama, followed by 52 percent in the United Arab Emirates. From there, Obama's popularity dips below 50 percent with a 47 percent favorability rating in Kuwait, 43 percent in Lebanon and 35 percent in Egypt. In none of these countries, however, was Obama's unfavorable rating higher than his favorable one.

In contrast, only 38 percent of Saudis have a favorable view of the United States, followed by 36 percent of Jordanians, 34 percent of UAE residents, 31 percent of Lebanese and 22 percent of Egyptians.

The difference between Obama's popularity and that of the United States is a goodwill gap that spreads from 26 points in Kuwait to 11 points in Lebanon, all in Obama's favor.

"Because of this, there is an opportunity for the president to literally 'bridge the gap' where his repository of goodwill lifts the goodwill towards America," according to Ipsos's synopsis.

Obama will attempt to do just that when he travels to Cairo on June 4 to deliver a promised speech to Muslims worldwide.

Since entering the White House, Obama has aggressively courted Middle East nations and the Muslim world. In his inaugural address, he said, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

He gave his first presidential television interviews to Al Arabiya network, headquartered in Dubai in the Persian Gulf and delivered an unprecedented Persian New Year message to the people of Iran via video, saying "Eid-eh, Shoma Mobarak," happy New Year.

"I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama told the network. "These things are interrelated."

That approach, a departure from that of former President George W. Bush, appears to be popular in the six Arab countries surveyed. In Jordan, 64 percent of residents said that Obama would have a positive effect in the Middle East, as did 55 percent in the United Arab Emirates, 49 percent in Saudi Arabia, 48 percent in Kuwait, 45 percent in Lebanon and 35 percent of Egyptians.

POLL METHODOLOGY: The McClatchy/Ipsos poll was conducted with a sample of 7,000 respondents ages 18 and over from six countries in the Middle East region between March 9 and March 25. The poll has an overall margin of error of plus-or-minus three percentage points.


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