Poll: Arab support for Assad at historic low

Arab American Institute Foundation survey finds that Arabs do not support US intervention in Syria, despite disillusionment with Assad.

October 25, 2011 20:52
3 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad 311 (R). (photo credit: Sana / Reuters)


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WASHINGTON – Support for Syrian President Bashar Assad has collapsed on the Arab street, a report released by the Arab American Institute Foundation on Tuesday revealed.

Middle East analyst and AAI President James Zogby said that although he discovered approval rates for Assad as low as 0 percent in some Arab countries, his data indicates that Arabs also do not support American intervention in support of the anti-Assad opposition.

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The Arab American Institute surveyed more than 4,000 Arabs in six countries in late September and early October, asking about opinions on Assad’s regime.

Zogby emphasized the sharp turnaround in support for the Syrian president. In 2008, he noted, Assad polled as one of the most respected leaders in the region, whereas today the overwhelming majority of those polled in all six states – Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – said they supported the anti-government demonstrators.

One hundred percent of those polled in Jordan said they sided with the opposition groups, whereas in the other five countries, levels of support ranged from 83% on up.

An Arab League delegation is expected to visit Syria later this week in an attempt to mediate between the Ba’athist regime and the coalition of opposition groups.

The study indicates that the public in Arab League member states may be less interested in mediation: In none of the six countries polled did more than 15% of the respondents believe that Assad can still govern Syria.

In Lebanon, a mere 1% of those polled said Assad can still govern Syria.

Assad ran the risk, Zogby said, of following in the path of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“When the Arab League passed its resolution on Muammar Gaddafi, I thought it was a one-off. His bizarre behavior, problematic policies and support for terror had made him an outcast,” Zogby said. Now, he warned, Damascus’s heavy-handed response to its own opposition had made Assad reviled in neighboring states.

“This is an issue best solved in the region,” Zogby said. “I don’t think that there is any tolerance for an American role. The mood in the region and in Syria is moving in only one direction.”

Although 39% of the Lebanese polled said the Syrian- sponsored Hezbollah was playing a positive role in Syria, 0% of Lebanese thought that the US was playing a positive role in Syria, and they were not alone. Twenty percent or fewer of those polled in all six countries thought that Washington had a positive role in the situation.

Even in majority Sunni states, Iran was largely perceived to have a more positive role than the US, although favorable public opinion for Iran in Lebanon has diminished.

The new study was released one day after the US pulled out its ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, although State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasized that the envoy had “not been recalled and not withdrawn,” and was instead brought home for “a break” and “consultations.”

Despite public attempts by the State Department to downplay the move, Damascus responded by calling home its ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha.

Nuland accused Damascus of running a “smear campaign of malicious and deceitful propaganda against Ambassador Ford,” and expressed concern that “the kinds of falsehoods that are being spread about Ambassador Ford could lead to violence against him.”

Despite the visit by Arab League representatives set for Wednesday, a major anti- Assad group said that it opposed talks between the opposition and the Syrian leadership. The Syrian National Council released a statement calling for international monitors to be sent to the country, and for a nationwide strike on the day of the delegation’s arrival.

Consistent with Zogby’s analysis of the Arab street, the Syrian National Council has said it opposes outside military involvement similar to the US-backed NATO air strikes that helped lead to Gaddafi’s downfall.

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