By William Fisher
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Arabs have turned against President Obama and US policy in the area.
The findings of a poll of 4,000 people in six Arab nations show that US and Obama favorable ratings are at a record low, top Arab concerns are US interference in the region and the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, killing bin Laden has not improved relations with the region, and there is a “mixed mood” in relation to The Arab Spring.
According to the Arab-American Institute (AAI), sponsor of the poll, the poll was commissioned immediately after President Obama's State Department speech in which he addressed the popular uprisings in the Arab world.
AAI says, “With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the US more than doubled in many Arab countries. But in the two years since his famous ‘Cairo speech,’ ratings for both the US and the President have spiraled downwards.”
AAI adds: “The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with US policies.”
In five out of the six countries surveyed, the US was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran. Far from seeing the US as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “US interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.
Countries surveyed include Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic (UAE).
While AAI acknowledges that the vehemence of Arab reaction to the US 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… US policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward America as a global model.”
“This poll reaffirms what we’ve been saying,” Zogby said. “Americans looked to Obama for change in 2008. The expectations were high, and we haven’t delivered. It seems that one thing that Americans and Arabs agree on is that the US needs to make changes here at home before looking to build on changes abroad.”
Zogby added, “Here and abroad, people were looking for real changes in our domestic and foreign policies, for real engagement in the Arab world and for progress in Palestine. These numbers are a clear statement of their disappointment.”
The poll shows that in five out of the six countries surveyed, the US was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France -- or Iran. “Far from seeing the US as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed ‘US interference in the Arab world’ as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.”
“American democracy [seems] a lot like damaged goods to many Arabs…
US policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward
America as a global model,” Zogby said.
The key findings in the survey:
• After improving with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, US favorable ratings across the Arab world have plummeted. In most countries they are lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran's favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia).
• The continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and US interference in the
Arab world are held to be the greatest obstacles to peace and stability in the
• While many Arabs were hopeful that the election of Barack Obama would improve U.S.-Arab relations, that hope has evaporated. Today, President Obama's favorable ratings across the Arab world are 10% or less.
• Obama's performance ratings are lowest on the two issues to which he has
devoted the most energy: Palestine and engagement with the Muslim world.
• The US role in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya receives a positive
rating only in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but, as an issue, it is the lowest
• The killing of bin Laden only worsened attitudes toward the US.
• A plurality says it is too early to tell whether the Arab Spring will have a
positive impact on the region. In Egypt, the mood is mixed. Only in the Gulf
States are optimism and satisfaction levels high.
The survey also found that, in 2011, Arab favorable attitudes towards the US dropped to levels lower than they were in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. The 2009 favorable attitudes towards the US spiked upwards, as expectations were raised that U.S. policy toward the region would change.
Substantial majorities of Arabs in almost every country view both the US 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.
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.
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. The prevailing view is that the killing of bin Laden will not appreciably improve the region.
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.
While satisfaction levels are down, optimism is up, the poll found. 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.
Acclaimed Egyptian writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif has expressed her own views regarding US presence and US policies. Writing in The Guardian, Saturday 21 May
2011, she described Obama’s speech on the US in the Middle East and North Africa as 'Chemical sweeteners.”
“This wasn't slipping poison into the honey; it was smearing chemical sweeteners on to toxic pellets,” she wrote.
“If Obama is serious about supporting self-determination, here's a to-do list:
remove state department warnings and give tax breaks to Americans holidaying in Egypt and Tunisia; grant a temporary tax amnesty to Egyptian imports; find our stolen money and hold it until our elections; regulate the US security industry; stop US aid to Israel and Egypt; close tax loopholes that encourage US citizens to fund settlements in Palestine; encourage Israeli transparency regarding its nuclear weapons.”
She added, “In the end, our revolutions are not by or for or about the US. We in Tunisia and Egypt, and soon in Libya, Syria, Yemen, are looking for ways to run our countries to the benefit of our people and the world. We see that democracy is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. ‘Democratic’ systems are failing their people, in Britain, in India, in the US, as millions fall into poverty, banks take precedence over hospitals and universities, the environment is degraded and the fabric of society frayed, the media are compromised, and politico-business scandals are standard entertainment.”