Attitudes toward the United States reached new
lows through most of the Arab world over the past year, according to the findings
of a major new
survey [.pdf] of five Arab countries released here Thursday by Zogby International
and the Arab American Institute (AAI).
Based on 3,500 face-to-face interviews of randomly selected adult respondents
in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, the survey found that
the continuing deterioration in Washington's image was due primarily to U.S.
policies in the region, particularly with respect to Iraq, Palestine, and, to
a somewhat lesser extent, Lebanon.
But it also found that attitudes toward U.S. cultural and political values
have also become increasingly negative, compared to previous years' surveys,
although not nearly as negative as Arab views of specific policies.
Particularly remarkable, negative opinions toward the United States have skyrocketed
in two key Arab monarchies long considered close allies of Washington, according
to the survey.
Nine of 10 Jordanian respondents said they held predominantly negative views
of the U.S., up from only 32 percent on early 2005. Likewise 87 percent of Moroccans
said their views of the U.S. were unfavorable, up from 64 percent last year.
At least as worrisome to U.S. policymakers, a major beneficiary of growing
Arab anger at Washington appeared to be Iran, according to AAI president James
Zogby, who also acted as a consultant to Zogby International.
"As America's numbers go down, Iran's goes up," he told reporters.
"That's the reality, and we're playing right into it."
While Arab leaders, including those with predominantly Sunni populations, "are
very much concerned [about rising Iranian influence], the Arab public has a
very different view," he said, noting that the survey results showed that
most respondents were not worried about Iran's nuclear program, particularly
compared to Iraq and Palestine.
More than seven in 10 respondents in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco, as
well as a majority in Lebanon, said U.S. efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program
contributed to their negative views of Washington.
The new survey, the third in a series that began in 2002, comes amid growing
controversy here over the Bush administration's policies in both Iraq and the
broader Middle East.
Public confidence in the U.S. in Bush's approach to the Iraq war, in particular,
has plummeted, especially since last month's Democratic sweep of the midterm
congressional elections. The long-awaited release last week of the report of
the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), which called for a major overhaul of
U.S. policies toward the region, including the engagement of Iran and Syria
and a major new diplomatic effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, has
further fueled the fierce debate.
While the ISG, which was headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and
former Rep. Lee Hamilton, has come under strong and sustained attack by neoconservative
media such as the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the
Weekly Standard, which often speak for administration hawks led by Vice
President Dick Cheney Zogby insisted that its stress on the necessity
for a wider regional approach both to the war in Iraq and the rise of Iran was
fundamentally correct and largely borne out by the survey results.
"What this poll says to me is that Baker-Hamilton are right," he
said. "If we want to salvage our credibility in Iraq, we have to address
issues of concern to our [Arab] allies," he said. "It's risky for
[Jordan's] King Abdullah to meet with George Bush when 90 percent of his population
feels negatively toward America."
Those concerns were spelled out in greatest detail by a series of questions
regarding the impact of five specific U.S. policies on respondents' overall
opinions of the United States.
Between 86 and 96 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan;
between 62 and 74 percent of Lebanese, and a majority of Egyptians cited U.S.
policies toward Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon as having either a "negative"
or "very negative" impact on their views of the U.S.
Respondents objected less strongly to U.S. efforts to promote democracy and
curb Iran's nuclear program, although majorities ranging from 51 to 80 percent
in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon said these also contributed to
their negative opinions of the U.S. Strong pluralities in Egypt agreed.
Asked about how their opinion of the U.S. had evolved over the past year, roughly
three in four Egyptians and Jordanians, six in 10 Moroccans and Saudis, and
nearly half of Lebanese respondents said their views were more negative.
Asked to identify the two biggest factors that contributed to their more negative
views, respondents in each country except Lebanon (where U.S. policy toward
Lebanon was cited as the most important factor) named Iraq and Palestine.
Similarly, asked to rank the impact of five key issues as having the greatest
negative impact on their economic development and political stability in their
countries, most respondents in all five countries put either the Arab-Israeli
conflict or the Iraq war at the top of their lists, followed by the Israel-Lebanon
conflict. "Political reform" was cited as having the most important
impact only in Morocco and was otherwise rated as third or fourth on respondents'
lists. Overall, "nuclear Iran" was rated as having the least negative
Overall, negative views of the U.S. were highest in Jordan (90 percent) and
Morocco (87 percent), followed by Egypt (83 percent), and Saudi Arabia (82 percent).
In Lebanon, where opinions on a range of issues were highly polarized between
Shi'a and Christian respondents, in particular, 68 percent of respondents said
their views toward the U.S. were unfavorable, an increase from 60 percent in
The survey also found high levels of uncertainty in all five countries compared
to 2005. More respondents in each country said they considered themselves worse
off than they were four years ago. In Jordan and Egypt, where nearly six out
of 10 respondents said they were worse off, the results were particularly striking.
That amounted to nearly a fourfold increase compared to their answers to the
same question in early 2005.
(Inter Press Service)