Friday, May 29, 2009

Ahead of Obama's Speech in Egypt: Arab Opinion Poll

Obama will address the Muslim world in Egypt with a major speech June 4. Ahead of that speech is a new poll, conducted by the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at University of Maryland, College Park, shows that Arabs aren't that hopeful about relations with the U.S., which gives Obama a lot of room for progress:
The most important consequence of their favorable views of President Obama appears to be expressed hope for American foreign policy in the Middle East. After a few weeks of the Obama administration, a majority in all countries, 51% (59% outside Egypt) expressed hopefulness about US Middle East policy, 28% were neutral, while only 14% were discouraged.

Expressed hopeful views, however, did not translate into immediate significant reevaluation of attitudes toward the US. 77% of Arabs still identify the United States as one of the two biggest threats they face (the other being Israel). But this is an improvement over 2008, when 88% of Arabs polled so identified the United States. Favorable views of the United States have not changed much since 2008, with the most important change being the decline of the number of people who have “very unfavorable views” of the US, from 64% in 2008 to 46% in 2009. Read more of the poll here.
They favor quick withdrawal from Iraq:
65% of Arabs polled (compared with 61% in 2008) believe that if the US withdraws its forces from Iraq as planned by the end of 2011, Iraqis will find a way to bridge their differences. 72% believe Iraqis are worse off than they were before the Iraq war, but this is a decrease from 82% in 2008.
How they feel about Iran:
There are indications the criticism of Iran, particularly in Morocco and Egypt, is having some impact. 13% identify Iran as one of their two biggest threats (compared with 7% in 2008), and outside Egypt, 20% see Iran as one of the two biggest threats to them, compared with 11% in 2008.

58% believe Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, compared with 39% in 2008. Still, 53% believe that Iran has the right to pursue its nuclear program, while 40% believe Iran should be pressured to stop its program. But this marks a significant change from 2008, when only 22% supported international pressure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
The leaders they admire most include Hugo Chavez:
The attacks on Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah, especially in Egypt and Morocco, appear to be having an impact. In an open question to identify the leader they admire most outside their own countries, only 6% identify Nasrallah (in contrast with 2008, when he led with 26%). However, he maintains solid popularity in Jordan (21%). The net winner is Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, who was identified as the most admired leader with 24% of those polled (compared with only 4% in 2008).
They like Obama okay but are more thankful that he's not Bush:
Overall, 45% of Arabs polled have a favorable view of President Obama (50% outside Egypt), 28% are neutral, 24% have negative views. Remarkably, 79% of Saudis have a favorable view of President Obama and only 14% have negative views. Consistently, in all six countries, the negative views of the President are remarkably low.

These favorable views of President Obama, while remarkable in comparison to previous American presidents, do not yet indicate enthusiasm. Those whose opinions of the President are “very positive” are only 11%. When asked in an open question about leaders they admire most in the world, few choose President Obama as one of those leaders.

Views of President Obama appear to be at least in part personal, and not simply a reflection of “thank God it’s not Bush” attitudes. To be sure, President George W. Bush still shows up as the leader of the list of the two most disliked leaders, with 61%. But when asked about attitudes toward Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, more Arabs have negative views of her than positive views. Overall, 45% have negative views, 24% are neutral, and 22% have positive views.