AFP/photoJuly 13, 2011 4:15 PM - boston.com
The United States is viewed less favorably in much of the Arab world today than it was during the final year of the Bush administration, and President Obama is less popular in the region than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to a poll released today by the Arab American Institute, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group.
Attitudes towards the US president and the United States as a whole have been growing increasingly negative over the past ten years due to the invasion of Iraq, outrage over Guantanamo Bay, and continued frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, which has been tracking attitudes for a decade.
But the current poll is striking in that is illustrates how far Obama’s favorability has fallen in the region, after an initial optimistic spike when he took office.
“It’s because expectations were created that were not met,” Zogby said.
In 2008, the final year of the Bush administration, only 9 percent of Egyptians had a favorable attitude towards the United States. A year later, after Obama took office, that number jumped to 30 percent. But now it has plummeted to just 5 percent of Egyptians who view the United States favorably.
Similar figures in Morocco, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates show that the United States is viewed less favorably now than the final year of the Bush administration.
In a worrisome sign for US policymakers who would like to enlist the region’s support in isolating the Iranian regime, the poll shows that the policies of Iran are viewed more favorably than the policies of the United States.
In Egypt and Jordan, only 3 percent of people polled said they agreed with Obama’s policies in the region, compared to 31 percent and 20 percent who said they agreed with the Iranian president’s. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent agreed with Obama’s policies, compared to 4 percent who said they agreed with the Iranian president.
Zogby said Obama’s appointment of a special ambassador to work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - by far the most important issue to people in the region, according to the poll - raised initial expectations. But then the US failure to make progress on the issue created widespread disillusionment.
Zogby said he spoke briefly with Obama a month ago about the poll and that the president said he expected the numbers to be low, given the impasse on the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
Other findings from the poll: Large numbers of Arabs say the no-fly zone over Libya either has no impact on or will worsen US-Arab relations.
Also, only 39 percent of Egyptians say the Arab world is better off since the uprisings spread across the region this spring, with 45 percent saying it is “too early to tell.”
Farah Stockman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.