Despite renewed U.S. efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian
peace agreement this year, popular views of the United States in the Arab world
have actually worsened since 2006, according to a major
new survey [.pdf] of public opinion in six Arab states.
Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of more than 4,000 respondents in Egypt,
Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said
they held a "very unfavorable" attitude of the United States, up
from 57 percent in late 2006, while 19 percent more said their views were "somewhat
unfavorable" roughly comparable to the results of 17 months ago.
At the same time, support for Iran and its nuclear program appears to have
risen over the same period, according to the new survey, the sixth in a series
designed by University of Maryland Prof. Shibley Telhami and carried out by
Zogby International since 2002.
The poll found that two-thirds of the Arab public (67 percent) believes Tehran
has the right to pursue its nuclear program and that international pressure
to freeze it should cease. That compares to 61 percent who took the same position
Remarkably, nearly three out of four Saudi respondents said that if Iran acquired
nuclear weapons, it would have a "positive" influence on the region,
while 51 percent of UAE respondents agreed. Pluralities in Morocco and Egypt
took the same position, while pluralities of roughly one-third in Lebanon and
Jordan said Tehran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon would make no difference.
The new survey also found that fears regarding both U.S. and Israeli designs
in the region have also increased over the past 17 months, despite the length
of time that has passed since the summer 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, which inflamed
anti-Israeli and anti-Western opinion throughout the region.
Asked to name two countries that, in their view, posed the "biggest threat"
to them, a whopping 95 percent and 88 percent of respondents named Israel and
the U.S., respectively. That compared to 85 percent and 72 percent, respectively,
in late 2006.
By comparison, the sense of threat posed by Iran appears to have diminished
over the same period. While 11 percent of Arab respondents named Iran as one
of the two greatest threats in late 2006, only seven percent did so in the
most recent survey.
The survey, which was conducted in all six countries last month, is certain
to be greeted with considerable dismay here in the U.S. capital where policymakers
had been cheered by some recent polling. One 23-nation survey released by BBC
earlier this month suggested that Washington's image around the globe had bottomed
out last year and that the greater emphasis the George W. Bush administration
has placed on diplomacy, rather than war and military threats, during its second
term, as well as reduced violence in Iraq, had begun to pay off, at least in
public diplomacy terms.
But Telhami's annual Arab public opinion poll is highly regarded among Arabist
scholars and public opinion specialists here who note that its consistency
of methodology and questions over an unusually long period of time has given
it considerable credibility. Telhami, an expert on Arab media, holds the Anwar
Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and serves
as a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings
Institution, a major think tank here.
The survey found that while views on some issues varied among the six countries,
cynicism about U.S. motivations and policies was fairly consistent. Eighty
percent said their views of the U.S. are formed more by U.S. "policies"
than by U.S. "values" up from 70 percent who took that position
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they don't believe that
democracy is a real objective in the region, while 20 percent said it is an
important objective but Washington is going about it the wrong way.
A 36-percent plurality said they did not believe reports that violence in
Iraq has been significantly reduced over the past year, while 31 percent said
any reduction of violence that has been achieved has little to do with the
"surge" of U.S. forces there and that, in any event, it was only
a matter of time before violence increases. Only 6 percent of respondents said
they believed the surge was working and would enhance the chances of a stable
Asked what they believe would happen if the U.S. quickly withdrew its forces,
61 percent said Iraqis would find a way to bridge their differences up from
44 percent in 2006. Only 15 percent said civil war in Iraq would expand rapidly,
down from 24 percent in 2006.
Respondents in Lebanon (88 percent), Jordan (87 percent), and Saudi Arabia
(66 percent) were particularly optimistic that Iraqis would reach a peaceful
settlement if the U.S. withdrew its forces quickly.
Overall, four out of five respondents said they believe that Iraqis are worse
off as a result of the U.S. invasion. Only two percent said they believed that
Iraqis were better off.
The survey found a sharp rise in the percentage of respondents, particularly
in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who identified the Palestinian cause as among their
three most important public issues. Eight-six percent of all respondents named
Palestine in that context, up from 77 percent in 2006 and 69 percent in 2005.
At the same time, however, a growing majority was found to be increasingly
pessimistic about prospects for a two-state solution based on Israel's 1967
borders. Fifty-five percent overall said they believe the collapse of prospects
for such a solution will likely lead to a state of "intense conflict for
years to come." Views on the conflict were especially pessimistic in Lebanon
Asked which U.S. presidential candidate would have the best chance to advance
peace in the Middle East, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama gained the most backing
with 18 percent, followed by Sen. Hillary Clinton (13 percent), and John McCain
(4 percent). But 20 percent of respondents said they weren't following the
U.S. elections, and a plurality of 32 percent said the policy will be the same
regardless of who is elected.
Asked to identify which foreign leader they admired the most, respondents
generally volunteered those most outspokenly defiant of Israel and the U.S.
The most popular was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who was named by 26
percent of respondents, up from 14 percent 17 months ago. Second-ranked was
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at 16 percent, up from just 2 percent in 2006.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came up third with 10 percent of respondents,
up from 4 percent in 2006, while al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was cited by
6 percent of respondents, up from 4 percent. Al-Qaeda also appeared to receive
a somewhat more sympathetic response among respondents than in late 2006.
Asked what aspect of the group, if any, they sympathize with the most, one-third
of respondents told interviewers then that they "do not sympathize at
all with this organization." Only 21 percent took that position in the
(Inter Press Service)