A new survey of Arab opinion in the Middle East shows hostility toward U.S. policies in the region but not toward American values. The author of a book based on the poll says top priority concerns for most responding to the poll focused on family and job issues more than politics.
The most significant finding of the survey for James Zogby of the Arab American Institute is what he describes as the least significant finding. "And that is that Arabs are just like everybody else. They go to bed at night thinking about their kids and families and they wake up in the morning thinking about their jobs. Despite the attitude that exists in the [United] States and the attitude that exists among the ideologues in the Arab world, Arab peoples' main concerns are the issues close to home," Mr. Zogby said.
The respondents were asked about their views of the West but also of their own governments and societies. Mr. Zogby said he was struck by the general sense of optimism even among Arabs living inside Israel. "Probably the most optimistic and the most satisfied of all the people that we covered were residents of the UAE," he said, referring to the United Arab Emirates. "Arabs in Israel, on the other hand, were quite dissatisfied. But nevertheless, they felt that they were better off and that their conditions would improve in the future."
Mr. Zogby was not surprised by the hostility expressed toward Israel and U.S. policies. But Mr. Zogby said the respondents did draw a line between policies and basic values. "They, for example, have very favorable attitudes toward American values, towards American freedom and democracy, education, American movies and TV, science and technology. The one area where they are dissatisfied is American policy toward the Arabs, American policy toward Palestinians and American policy toward Iraq. Those issues are precisely where Arabs have a problem," he said.
Mr. Zogby said external politics generally did not rank that high on the list of personal concerns. But he said the role of religion ranks third on the list of important issues that define daily life, after family and job security.
Still, the survey shows that most Arabs identify themselves as Arabs, not as Muslims or Christians. That goes for Lebanon too, even though religious divisions in part fueled a devastating civil war there.
Mr. Zogby's book, What Arabs Think, is based on the findings of the survey, which polled 3,800 Arab adults living in seven Middle East states and in Israel. "This is a study that is done by Arabs for Arabs in order to promote an intra-Arab discussion. But also it will have reverberations in the West," he said.
Mr. Zogby says the survey results could help Westerners gain a better understanding of the complexity of Arab societies.
The study was commissioned by the Arab Thought Foundation in Beirut, Lebanon.