Poll: Arab world mixed on Obama

Findings of new survey indicates many Arabs hopeful new administration will offer real ME policy change.

obama exactly 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
obama exactly 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Just over half of the Arab respondents from six countries say they are "somewhat hopeful" or "very hopeful" regarding the Middle East policy of US President Barack Obama's administration, a new survey has found. Twenty-eight percent are neither hopeful nor discouraged, while 14% are somewhat discouraged or very discouraged. But the 2009 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey also found that 77% of respondents have a "very unfavorable" or "somewhat unfavorable" attitude toward the United States, down from 83% last year. And most considered Israel and the United States, in that order, to be the countries that posed the greatest threat to them. The results of the survey, conducted by the University of Maryland with Zogby International, were released ahead of Obama's highly anticipated address to the Muslim world, to be delivered in Cairo on June 4th. The poll queried nearly 4,090 respondents during April-May 2009 from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The poll appears to indicate two things, said Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Cairo-based al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. There are certain constants that have remained over the years, such as Israel and the US being considered the main enemies, stemming from socialization, media and historical events in the Arab world. But there is also some hope about Obama, which dates back to the election season - a feeling of general support for him and a faith in his ability to get things done. There was a desire among many Arabs, said Aly, for someone to "come on a white horse" and solve their problems. However, to fulfill their expectations, he added, Obama would have to deliver both on the peace process and on the issue of Iraq. Obama "has to make steps that are feasible, obvious, that can be seen, that can be measured," he said. Making progress on the settlement issue - such as convincing Israel to stop settlement growth and to dismantle illegal outposts - "is the most crucial and important signal" that Obama could make when it came to the peace process, Aly said. Regarding Iraq, Obama would score points if he were to stick to his timetable for withdrawal, he added. According to the survey, the most central issues in judging the Obama administration will be his performance on Iraq, the Arab-Palestinian conflict and attitudes toward the Arab and Muslim world. Obama has made a special effort to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world since he took office earlier this year, apparently attempting to refashion America's foreign policy image, which took a beating during the previous US administration. Withdrawing from Iraq, withdrawing from the Arabian Peninsula and helping forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement - in that order - were found to be among the most important steps needed to boost America's image. The poll, which has an error margin of 1.6%, also found that 45% of respondents have very positive or somewhat positive views of Obama himself, while 24% have somewhat negative or very negative views. But Aly warned that most Arab countries do not allow polling and thus such polls aren't always reflective of the greater Arab world.