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Arab Ire Directed at US Policy, Not Obama, Poll Shows

  • Mohamed Elshinnawi

James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, Marwan al-Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. on June 3,2014 (Photo taken by Mohammed Elshinnawi VOA)

James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, Marwan al-Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. on June 3,2014 (Photo taken by Mohammed Elshinnawi VOA)

“Despite the persistence of negative attitudes toward several U.S. polices in the Arab world,” there has been an increase in Arab support for U.S. President Obama, according to a recent Zogby poll.

Five years after President Obama’s address in Cairo to the Arab world , Zogby Research Services surveyed some 7,000 Arabs in six Arab countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Lebanon - as well as the Palestinian territories.

The survey released in early June found U.S. favorable ratings in the Arab World remain well below the 50 percent level.

President Obama has a favorable rating in UAE of 26 percent , 22 percent in Egypt, 19 in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and 11 among Palestinians –better than the 9 percent support level that former President George W. Bush had during his last year in office, according to Zogby.

When President Obama took office in 2009, surveys show about 30 percent support in Egypt, with similar ratings in other Arab countries.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, commissioned the poll. He said “the softer footprint of the U.S. under Obama compared to the heavy interventionist approach that President Bush adopted in Iraq” is helping in keeping President Obama’s ratings at low levels in the Arab world.

Zogby said some drop in President Obama’s popularity in the Arab world over the past five years is primarily due to a sentiment among many Arabs that he has not met expectations as outlined in his Cairo speech on U.S. relations with the Arab world – especially concerning the Mideast peace process.

“When the president laid down the 1967 borders as a basis for resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, he was humiliated by his own Congress who invited Israeli Prime Minister to come to Congress and reject the president’s initiative,” Zogby said.

“The president is facing a partisan block that is preventing him from making a difference, in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said.

The poll looks at the major issues driving Arab attitudes toward the United States, including U.S. policy on the Syrian conflict, Egypt's interim government, negotiations with Iran, the two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution, and U.S. commitments to improving ties with the Arab World.

According to the poll, Arabs believe the Obama Administration has been most effective “in ending the U.S. presence in Iraq and working to end Iran’s nuclear program” but least effective “in improving relations with the Arab and Muslim Worlds and in handling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arab Spring.”

Arabs in many countries believe that “the U.S. is not even-handed in its approach to Palestinian-Israeli peace-making and have very little confidence that the U.S. is committed to an independent Palestinian state,” surveyors said.

The poll suggests that across the board, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the most important factor that could improve Arab attitudes toward the U.S. –a relationship many respondents said they want see strengthened.

“The most striking figures were that strong majorities ranging between 60 to 83 percent say it is important for their Arab countries to have good relations with the U.S.,” Zogby said.

The survey showed strong support in the Arab world for a “negotiated solution” to the Syrian conflict, one led by the United States.

“Seventy-six percent in Egypt and close to 50 percent in most surveyed countries support the U.S. approach of pressing all Syrian parties to enter serious negotiations leading to a transitional government.” said Zogby.

Barbara Slavin, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, found that part of the survey surprising.

“The most striking outcome was the high percentage of Arabs who do not want the U.S. to get involved militarily in Syria and want it to stick to humanitarian assistance and pursuing a political solution,” said Slavin, who is also a paid Voice of America commentator.

As for U.S. policies in Egypt, many of those surveyed said the Obama administration was “too supportive” of ousted Egyptian President Mubarak and “not supportive enough” for his Islamist successor Mohamed Morsi, who was later ousted in a military coup.

Opinion was divided on whether the U.S. has shown too much or not enough support for the current interim government in Egypt.

Paul Salem, an analyst at the Middle East Institute, said President Obama’s Mideast policies reflect his goals.

“President Obama is not an idealist to try to achieve some dream of democracy or human rights like Jimmy Carter, but he is a foreign policy minimalist focusing on what directly impacts or threats the U.S., so democracy promotion is not his goal.” Salem said.

And the poll numbers reflect that, pollster Zogby said.

“There is a sharp decline in Arabs confidence that the U.S. is committed to democracy across the Middle East.” Zogby said.

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