Poll: Arab support for US increasing

But while rising numbers in Arab world approve of new administration, Palestinian support is declining.

obama abbas 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
obama abbas 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While support for America's leaders has risen markedly throughout the Arab world with the coming of a new American administration, it has actually declined among Palestinians, a Gallup poll published Monday has found. In the poll, conducted in February and March through interviews with some 1,000 Arab adults in ten Arab countries and the West Bank, Arabs outside of Lebanon or the West Bank showed a sharp spike in approval for America's leaders. The Gallup Corporation released the poll with findings from previous polls in the various countries. It found the most dramatic increase in North Africa. Between June 2008 and March 2009, Tunisians' approval rose from 14 percent to 37%, and Algerians' from 25% to 47%. Egypt, a key US partner from whose capital US President Barack Obama will deliver a "speech to the Muslim world" on Thursday, saw approval ratings soar from a measly 6% in May 2008 to 25% in March 2009. Appreciation of the new administration also rose among key oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf. In Saudi Arabia, a May 2008 approval rating of 12% turned into 29% in the new poll. In Qatar, approval rose in just two months, from January 2009 to March, from 8% to 22%. Even Syria, which is engaged in a stand-off with US diplomats over its ties to Iran, saw approval rise from 4% in August 2008 to 15% in the new poll. Yet this rise in approval leaves much to be desired, as "approval of US leadership remains generally low," Gallup researchers noted. Indeed, among Palestinians and Lebanese, it has taken a turn for the worse from the Bush administration to the Obama administration, dropping by 3% in Lebanon (25% in May 2008 to 22% in March 2009) and 6% among West Bank Arabs (13% in August 2008 to just 7%). It is unclear if this drop is the result of these Arab populations' concerns over Israel's January 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which enjoyed American political support and silence from then-president-elect Obama, or if it is related to the profound culture wars taking place in these two societies between radical Muslim forces and relative moderates or even liberals. Gallup researchers noted that while approval dropped into the single digits, disapproval "remained steady at about 80%... It's important to note that when Gallup asked Palestinians in 2008 whether it would make a difference who was elected president of the United States, a substantial majority (72%) said it would not," they wrote. While the drop among Palestinians is significant, if only because it can't fall much farther before reaching zero, the drop in Lebanon is within the statistical error margin for the poll, which lies between 3.3% and 3.8% depending on the country. The new ratings in much of the Arab world mark a dramatic shift in most of the Arab states surveyed, according to Gallup figures. "Throughout much of President George W. Bush's second term, Gallup found US leadership approval ratings in many Arab countries at times in the single digits and among the lowest in the world," researchers noted. "Declines in approval were evident in several Arab countries over time, and in some nations, Egypt in particular, views soured significantly toward the end of Bush's term." Gallup researchers believe Obama's "overtures toward pulling US troops out of Iraq and closing Guantanamo Bay prison" may be partly responsible for the rise in approval, noting that "respondents in previous Gallup surveys said [both actions] could help improve the United States' image." Meanwhile, while approval was certainly up, so was uncertainty. In Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the West Bank and Yemen, the percentage of respondents who refused to answer or answered "don't know" more than doubled, with the highest uncertainty levels reported in Saudi Arabia (19%) and Lebanon (18%).