A new public opinion poll shows negative attitudes toward the United States continue in the Arab world, despite a stepped up public diplomacy campaign by the Bush administration.
The Washington-based Arab-American Institute sponsored the survey, conducted in October, of some 4,000 people in six countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The organization conducted similar polls in 2002, the year before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and in 2004.
James Zogby, the project director, says the current poll shows that attitudes toward the United States have improved only slightly since last year, but remain low.
"Negative attitudes hardened," he said. "And we found that the major reasons that they hardened had to do with Iraq. Iraq has replaced Israel-Palestine for the time being as the principal source of aggravation. The [U.S.] treatment of Arabs and Muslims is a strong second for most of the countries."
Mr. Zogby adds that the Bush administration's public diplomacy initiative appears to be having little impact in the Arab world.
"Interestingly enough, America's advocacy of democracy and freedom has resonated only in a positive way among Christians in Lebanon," he noted. "The two countries where this effort has been most focused, that is Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among those who said the principal factor that shaped their attitude toward America was America's attitude toward democracy and freedom, 80 percent of them had a more negative attitude toward America. It did not work, is the point."
Mr. Zogby says people in the Arab world have favorable attitudes toward American culture and values. He says it is the policies of the United States that they do not like.
Mr. Zogby says his survey shows that the top concerns for people in the Arab world are job prospects and improving education and health care. He says those are the areas the Bush administration should focus on if it wants to improve its standing in the Arab world.
"If America were to want to offer help in these countries, I would suggest that rather lecturing them on either women driving or having an election of being a more open democracy, what our policies ought to focus on are infrastructure building," he explained. "We ought to be improving health care, we ought to be improving education, we ought to be increasing their employment opportunities with direct investment or creating public partnerships that help the economies grow."
Mr. Zogby says one noteworthy aspect of his survey is that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dropped in importance from second place from 2002 to seventh this year. He says that does not mean the issue is unimportant to people in the Arab world, but rather that other issues like the economy and education are currently more important to Arabs.
Mr. Zogby did note that optimism about peace prospects has declined since last year's polling.
"One area where I think there is some concern is on the likelihood of peace," he added. "It has dropped. It has dropped in almost every country, and the two countries where it has dropped the most, and dropped significantly, is in both Egypt and in Jordan, the two countries that in fact have made peace with Israel and yet the two countries where optimism of the likelihood of peace in the next five years is the lowest."
At the same time, slim majorities in Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE do believe it is likely there will be peace in the region in the next five years.
On other matters, the poll shows that family, quality of work, marriage and religion are the top personal issues, although the survey shows that the significance of religion has declined in most of the countries and is in fifth place among younger Arabs.
The survey shows that more Arabs currently prefer to identify with their country of origin, rather than with their religion or "being Arab," whereas in 2002, religion and sect were the main self-identifiers.
The poll indicates that significant majorities of Arabs in the countries surveyed accept women in the work place, especially if the reason is to provide financial support for their families, and smaller majorities also support women working for other reasons, including to find a fulfilling career, and because she wants to work. Arabs in the UAE and Saudi Arabia are least supportive of women working outside the home.
The poll shows that, overall, Arabs appear to be satisfied with their present situation and optimistic about their future. Most significant changes occurred in Lebanon, where both optimism and satisfaction doubled since 2002.