Obama's popularity plunges in Arab world

Sat, Aug 7, 2010, 01:00

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s popularity in the Arab world has plunged dramatically since he delivered his conciliatory address to Muslims in Cairo in June 2009.

In an annual poll sponsored by US think tank the Brookings Institution, more than 60 per cent of respondents in half a dozen Arab countries said they had a negative view of Mr Obama and the US while only 20 per cent had a positive view. In April-May 2009, 45 per cent of those polled were positive about him and US policy in the region.

According to the latest poll, half had an unfavourable view of Mr Obama personally and were pessimistic about his policies; more than a third had a positive view of him but believed the US system would not permit him to pursue a successful foreign policy. A small number viewed Mr Obama favourably and were hopeful that he could bring change.

The second issue on which there was a major shift in attitudes concerned Iran’s nuclear programme. Fifty-seven per cent of this year’s respondents said Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a “positive” development for the region; last year this figure was 29 per cent while 46 per cent said it would be a negative development.

Mr Obama’s inability to secure positive movement on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may have contributed to this change. This failure most disappointed Arabs, while displeasure over his performance in Iraq came second. The president’s timetable for evacuating Iraq is likely to have accounted for the demotion of this issue from first to second in importance.

US policies on Afghanistan and, surprisingly, US attitudes toward Islam ranked low.

Arab views of the US would be improved most by a Palestinian-Israeli agreement, countering analysts who argue that the Arab public is apathetic about this dispute.

Large numbers of respondents also called for a halt to US aid to Israel. The overwhelming majority would agree to a peace deal with Israel but a firm majority does not believe Israel wants peace. A small percentage said Arabs should fight on even if Israel withdraws from territory occupied in 1967. These figures bore out results of earlier surveys.

Overall, 85 per cent expressed an unfavourable view of the US while 12 per cent took a favourable line. This compared with 77 per cent that adopted an unfavourable view in 2009 and 83 per cent in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, which was deeply unpopular with the Arabs.

It is significant that almost 60 per cent had an unfavourable opinion of the US public and 28 per cent a favourable view. These figures reveal that a majority of Arabs hold US citizens responsible for the activities of their government. For decades this was not the case.

The countries surveyed were Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all “moderates” allied to the US.

The survey, of 3,976 people, was conducted between June 29th and July 20th, by the University of Maryland and Zogby International.