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13 Jul, 2011

U.S. Image Sinks Further in Middle East, Poll Shows

Washington D.C., (Arab-American Institute Media Release) — With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. more than doubled in many Arab countries. But in the two years since his famous “Cairo speech,” ratings for both the U.S. and the President have spiraled downwards. The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with U.S policies.

In five out of the six countries surveyed, the U.S. was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran. Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “U.S. interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.

While the vehemence of Arab reaction to the U.S. was startling, the general sentiment echoed points made in AAI President James Zogby’s 2010 book Arab Voices, in which he reflected on Arab opinions of both the U.S. and our foreign policies. “American democracy [seems] a lot like damaged goods to many Arabs… U.S. policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward America as a global model.”

Key Findings (Download the Full Poll Here)

A. In 2011, Arab favorable attitudes towards the U.S. dropped to levels lower than they were in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. The 2009 favorable attitudes towards the U.S. spiked upwards, as expectations were raised that U.S. policy toward the region would change.

B. 2011 U.S. favorable ratings are lower than those of other countries (including Iran) covered in the survey – except in Saudi Arabia, where Iran’s ratings are lowest. Note that substantial majorities have favorable views of Turkey (all countries except Jordan), and substantial majorities hold unfavorable views of Iran (all countries except Lebanon).

C. Substantial majorities of Arabs in almost every country view both the U.S. and Iran as not “contributing to peace and stability in the Arab World.” The U.S.’ contribution to the region is viewed less positively than Iran in every country except Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon is the only Arab country that sees Iran contributing to peace and stability in the region. The roles of Turkey and Saudi Arabia are appreciated by strong majorities in every country.

D. Overall, Arabs view the two greatest threats to the region’s peace and stability to be “the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands” and “U.S. interference in the Arab world.” Only in Saudi Arabia does the concern with “Iran’s interference in Arab affairs” rank as a top concern.

E. When asked to choose “the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East,” once again the “occupation of Palestinian lands” and “U.S. interference in the Arab world” rank as the top two concerns.

F. With the exception of Lebanon and UAE, many Arabs recall being hopeful after the election in 2008, believing that the election of Barack Obama would bring change to U.S. policy toward the Arab world.

G. Despite initial optimism, most Arabs believe that the expectations President Obama created in his 2009 Cairo speech have not been met.

H. Ten percent or less of Arabs in all of the countries surveyed agree with the policies pursued by President Obama. By far, his ratings are the lowest of those other leaders covered in the survey.

I. Arabs see the Obama Administration’s handling of most Middle East policy issues as having made no contribution to improving U.S.-Arab relations. Only on the issue of the “no-fly zone over Libya” do a majority of Saudis and a plurality of Lebanese see a positive contribution.

It is noteworthy that the two issues on which the Administration has invested considerable energy—”the Palestinian issue” and “engagement with the Muslim world”—receive the lowest approval ratings – less than 9% across the board.

J. “Resolving the Palestinian issue” is, by far, seen as the most important issue for the U.S. to address in order to improve relations in the Arab world.

K. Majorities in every country say that the killing of bin Laden makes them view the U.S. less favorably. Given that overall favorable ratings are already so low, this should not make a substantial difference in the ratings.

L. The prevailing view is that the killing of bin Laden will not appreciably improve the region.

M. A plurality of Arabs in four of the six countries say that “it is too early to tell” whether the Arab world will be better off after the Arab Spring. Almost one-half of Egyptians feel this way. Only in the UAE does a majority agree that the region is better off after the uprisings.

N. While a plurality say that “the situation in my country has gotten better…as a result of the Arab uprisings,” at least one half or more, including Egypt, say that the situation has worsened or not changed at all.

O. Asked whether they are “better off, worse off, or doing the same” compared to five years ago, only in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Morocco are people doing better. In Jordan, Lebanon, and, significantly, in Egypt, a plurality say they are doing worse.

Note that responses to the same question in 2009 demonstrated a greater degree of satisfaction in every country.

P. While satisfaction levels are down, optimism is up. In Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia substantial majorities believe that they “will be better off in the next five years,” at levels significantly higher than they were in 2009. Only in Lebanon and Jordan have optimism levels dropped and pessimism levels increased.