Muslim Turkey Hopeful for Obama Presidency

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ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey's famous and very busy Bosphorus Sea is a body of water that literally divides the city of Istanbul in two. On one side lies Europe, on this side lies Asia. And when president Obama comes to Turkey this weekend, he will find a nation literally divided between those who want to embrace the West and democracy and those who would prefer to embrace the Middle East and Asia.

But for a few days next week, Turks say they will put aside those divisions to listen to what America's new Commander in Chief has to say.

"This is a very important visit because it comes in the midst of a huge global economic crisis. I'll be paying attention to how he and our leaders plan to get us out of this mess," an Istanbul resident said.

Strained Relations for Eight Years

"Our two countries have had strained relations for the past eight years. I hope that he can restore that," another local said.

During his inauguration, Mr. Obama made a promise to the Muslim world.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interests and mutual respect," he said during his inaugural address.

Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, but has adopted a Western-style democracy.

Obama Friendlier to Muslims?

Many will be watching and waiting to see if this new administration's policy is really going to be friendlier to the Muslim world.

"American presidents always make these promises, but political realities quickly set in and these promises become just that, promises. But I hope he can really make it happen because we need to better understand each other," a resident said.

Just released polls show a dramatic turnaround in people's perception here of the office of the U.S. president.

Four years ago, less than 10 percent thought favorably of the U.S. president under George Bush. That number has jumped to nearly 40 percent with the rise of Obama to the White House.

Prefer Obama to Bush

"As Turkish people, we didn't like Bush's political attitudes, especially what he did in the Middle East affected Turkish people," another local said.

Obama has promised to make a major speech in a Muslim capital, but he won't make that speech in Turkey.

Still, the symbolism of America's first African American president addressing the Islamic world from here, is not lost on the minds of many Turks we spoke to.

"I would have never imagined it, but this is what makes America so great. Imagine, you have an African American as your president, this is amazing. We are honored to host him," he said.

The President will begin his journey in capital city of Ankara, where he's expected to hold bi-lateral talks with Turkey's top leaders.

Then on Tuesday, he'll head to Istanbul where he'll gather some young folks in a roundtable format. He will also see some of the sites and sounds of the city before heading back home Tuesday evening.

*Originally aired on April 3, 2009.

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George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Senior Reporter

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