Survey: Arabs Detest US Policy
U.S. President George W. Bush thinks his "war on terror"
is winning Arab hearts and minds, he should think about conducting
it much differently than he has over the past two years...
with changing his policies.
is the unavoidable conclusion of the latest two in a
series of major surveys of public opinion in five Arab countries
all U.S. allies in the "war on terror" released
here Friday by the University of Maryland (UMD), the Arab American
Institute (AAI) and Zogby International.
attitudes toward America have dropped precipitously over the past
two years," said AAI Executive Director James Zogby, summing
up the results.
contrast to the Bush administration's insistence that U.S. "values"
and political ideals are behind the hostility, the findings also
show that the Arab populations of Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi
Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) see U.S. policies
in the Middle East as by far the main factor in fostering the Arab
world's growing antagonism toward Washington.
the policy, stupid," said Zogby, who added that when asked
an open-ended question about what the United States could do to
improve its image among Arabs, significant pluralities in each country
called for Washington to either "stop supporting Israel"
or "change Middle East policy."
toward the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq were also almost
you have is a collapse of trust in U.S. intentions," said Shibley
Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at UMD,
who is also a fellow at the Brooking Institution. He suggested that
confidence in the Arab world toward Washington has plunged so deeply
that even if Bush loses the elections in November, any new administration
will have a very difficult time regaining trust.
surveys, which were designed to be representative of the different
ethnic and religious groups in each of the countries polled, were
conducted in May in major cities. Some 3,000 respondents were personally
interviewed by questioners of the same gender.
AAI survey, the sixth on Arab "impressions of America,"
covered general attitudes toward the United States and how they
are formed, while the UMD survey dealt with Arab attitudes towards
political and social issues, foreign policy and the media.
AAI survey found that the number of people who rated the U.S. "favorably"
already very low two years ago in the aftermath of the military
campaign in Afghanistan has since fallen into the cellar.
were most significant in Morocco (from 38 percent favorable to 11
percent), Jordan (from 34 to 15 percent) and Egypt (from 15 to two
percent). Even in Saudi Arabia, where 12 percent in 2002 said they
had a favorable opinion of the United States overall, the percentage
that still believes that has dropped to four.
the Bush administration's contention that anti-U.S. sentiment in
the Arab world is based on hostility to U.S. values and "who
we are," the poll found evidence that while Arabs were less
positive about U.S. values, products, culture and people than two
years ago, they were far more antagonistic toward specific policies.
the percentage of respondents in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and UAE who
said they felt favorably about U.S. science and technology, freedom
and democracy, people and movies and television, hovered between
a low of around one-third to highs of about two-thirds, only four
percent of the same respondents said they had a favorable view of
U.S. policy toward Arabs and Palestinians.
an open-ended question about what they first think when they hear
"America," pluralities of respondents in every country,
except Lebanon and Jordan, volunteered "unfair foreign policy,"
while a plurality in Jordan cited "imperialism." The ratio
of negative to positive responses, according to Zogby, was three
to one in Lebanon and Egypt, four to one in Morocco, Jordan and
the UAE, and 15 to one in Saudi Arabia.
to volunteer "the worst thing" they think about with respect
to the United States, 80 percent of the responses involved foreign
policy issues. The two answers that were given most frequently were
"unfair Middle East policy" and "murdering Arabs."
The latter was the most frequently heard response in Morocco and
UMD survey, which dealt more specifically with the impact of the
Iraq war, also painted a dismal picture for U.S. policy makers
whether the recent transfer of sovereignty to Iraq will bring positive
change, more chaos or no real change at all, majorities in each
country (except Egypt, which was not polled in the UMD survey) opted
for the last, while about one in four respondents in Lebanon, Jordan
and Saudi Arabia chose chaos.
than four out of five respondents said they considered the Iraqi
people to be "worse off" than before the war.
worrisome, large majorities, ranging from 64 percent in Lebanon
to 90 percent in Saudi Arabia, said they believed the war would
result in more terrorism against the United States, while slightly
smaller majorities, ranging from 57 percent in Lebanon to 82 percent
in Morocco, said the war had brought "less democracy"
to the region. In no country did more than seven percent say they
felt the war would bring "more democracy."
to rank five as the most likely of eight possible U.S. motives for
the war, the UMD survey showed strongly negative views across the
ranging between 61 percent (Jordan) and 88 percent (Morocco) in
every country except, ironically, Saudi Arabia (45 percent) named
"controlling oil" as one of the top motivations, along
with "protecting Israel," an option that attracted from
44 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia to 82 percent of respondents
in both Morocco and Lebanon. Next highest motive chosen by
about two-thirds of all respondents was "weakening"
or "dominating" the Muslim world.
for the more positive options presented ensuring peace and
stability, bringing democracy, preventing weapons of mass destruction
(WMD), and ending Iraqi oppression none was rated as one
of the five major motivations by a majority of all respondents,
while "bringing democracy" received the lowest scores
in each of the five countries surveyed.
respondents, 59 percent of whom rated "preventing WMD"
as one of the top five motives, opted significantly more often for
positive motives than respondents in each of the other countries,
while the greatest cynicism was expressed by respondents in the
about their own sense of identity, pluralities in Jordan and Morocco
and majorities in Saudi Arabia and UAE identified themselves primarily
as Muslim, as opposed to a citizen of their country, an "Arab,"
or a "citizen of the world."
said the result showed a marked rise in Muslim consciousness compared
to previous surveys, and suggested that it may be evidence of a
"backlash" against U.S. foreign policy, which is seen
increasingly as directed "against Muslims."
to name the world leader they most admired outside of their own
country, the late Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser was mentioned
most frequently in the five countries combined and particularly
in Saudi Arabia, where 46 percent of respondents gave his name.
most mentioned was French President Jacques Chirac, who was named
by one of every four Lebanese. Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
was nominated by 21 percent of Jordanians, but only one percent
of Saudis and four percent of Lebanese.
bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, did best in the
UAE, where 18 percent of respondents named him, as did seven percent
of respondents in both Jordan and Morocco. (As a Saudi, bin Laden
was not an acceptable choice for Saudi respondents.)
unifying factor behind all of these choices, noted Telhami, is the
fact that they are "people who are seen to have defied the
United States of America."
least admired world leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
swept the board in each country with between 61 percent and
64 percent of respondents in each country, except Saudi Arabia (49
percent) volunteering his name.
was the next most frequently mentioned from 19 percent in
UAE to 39 percent in Saudi Arabia.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service