Poll: Arab support for Obama drops dramatically

Paul D. Shinkman Contributor
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A new poll of the Arab world unveiled Thursday at the Brookings Institute shows support for President Obama among Arabs has dropped significantly in the past year.

Sixty-two percent of Arabs have a negative view of the American president, up from 23% in 2009, according to the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll conducted by University of Maryland and Zogby International. The survey polled sample sizes between 500-800 Arabs earlier this summer in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The poll also show that more than three-quarters of those polled believe Iran has the right to a nuclear program — a rise from 53% last year — and that 57% believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons — up from 39% at the end of the Bush presidency in 2008.

The poll pointed to disturbing trends among Arabs towards Israel, with 59% believing movies or programs about the Jewish Holocaust during World War II “brings sympathy toward Israel and the Jews at the expense of Palestinians and Arabs.” Almost 90% see Israel as their biggest threat, with the United States close behind at 77% — a figure that has only dropped slightly since the end of the Bush presidency.

“There is no question in my mind that the bulk of the shifting attitudes towards the Obama Administration in the Arab world…is due to disappointment on [the Israel-Palestine policy],” said University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami, the poll’s principal investigator, at the polls unveiling. “This is the prism through which Arabs view the U.S.”

“It’s graphic when you look at the data right now,” Telhami, who is also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute, added, pointing to the 63% of Arabs who cite this as the Obama administration policy with which they are most “disappointed.” The Iraq War comes in second with 27%, and the War in Afghanistan a distant fourth at 4%.

“Arabs liked Obama early on in part because they saw him as having been against the [Iraq] war from the beginning,” Telhami said, explaining that he believes the bulk of Arab disappointment stems from the inability of Iraqi elected officials to successfully “put together the government,” for which “obviously the U.S. gets blamed.”

The poll demonstrates that 57% believe Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons would lead to a “positive” outcome in the Middle East, up from 29% in 2009 and 44% in 2008, which Telhami believes is a projection of their discontent with a larger issue.

“It’s mostly their…expression of anger and pessimism about the effectiveness of American foreign policy,” he said, reinforcing their views of Israel and the U.S. as the greatest threats.”It’s not an evaluation of Iran in and of itself; it’s an Iran in the context of [Arabs’] world view, the prospect of an Arab-Israeli issue and their attitudes towards the United States.”

Only 16% of Arabs are “hopeful” of Obama’s policy in the Middle East, down from 51% last year, according to the poll.
The poll has been conducted every year since 2003, with the exception of 2007. It was designed to observe and review changes in Arabs’ perception of themselves and their surroundings, and to correlate that with regional, national and international issues. Next year will be the final poll before the project is “completed,” Telhami said.