Posted on November 07, 2005 in Washington Watch

Arab attitudes toward the United States have somewhat improved in the past year. Having plummeted to a dangerous low point in mid-2004, favorable ratings of the US are now back to their still low, but better, 2002 level.

This was one finding from a six nation poll conducted during October of 2005. The Zogby International (ZI) poll was commissioned by the Arab American Institute (AAI). The AAI/ZI poll surveyed over 3,600 Arabs in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Jordan.

What the AAI/ZI study shows is that about one third of Moroccans, Jordanians, Lebanese, and Arabs in the United Arab Emirates now have favorable attitudes of America. Only in Saudi Arabia and Egypt do positive attitudes remain in the low range (Saudi Arabia 9% and Egypt 14%). But in all six countries surveyed, favorable ratings are up from 2004 and at the levels they were in 2002.

Table 1
Attitudes Toward America, 2005
    Egypt     Saudi Arabia     Morocco  
  2005 2004 2002 2005 2004 2002 2005 2004 2002
Favorable 14 n/a 15 9 4 12 34 11 38
Unfavorable 85 n/a 76 89 94 89 64 88 61
    Jordan     United Arab Emirates     Lebanon  
  2005 2004 2002 2005 2004 2002 2005 2004 2002
Favorable 33 15 34 28 14 11 32 20 26
Unfavorable 63 78 61 69 73 87 66 69 90

That’s the good news. There’s bad news as well. When the ratings given to the US are compared with those given to the other three countries covered in the poll (China, Russia, and India), the US comes in last place, with China scoring significantly higher in most of the six Arab countries surveyed.

Table 2
Attitudes Toward China, India, Russia, 2005 (favorable/unfavorable)
  Egypt Saudi Arabia Morocco Jordan United Arab Emirates Lebanon
China 70/15 40/41 52/38 68/26 36/44 46/25
India 50/19 39/43 39/47 55/39 40/44 38/30
Russia 28/41 21/62 30/55 55/35 30/47 45/33

Additionally, it appears that the favorable attitudes toward the US are quite soft, while negative attitudes appear to have hardened. In response to a separate question, those with negative attitudes toward the US report that those attitudes actually worsened in the past year. On the other hand, in response to this same question, most of those who now report having a favorable view of the US do not indicate feeling better about the US during the past year.

As in earlier polls, it is clear that it is American policy in the region which drives the negative attitude. When respondents were asked to identify the issues that most shaped their attitudes towards the US, major factors they identified are the war in Iraq (the number one issue in all six countries) and American treatment of Arab and Muslims (the number two concern in all six countries).

Table 3
Most Important Factor in Determining Attitudes Towards US
  Egypt Saudi Arabia Morocco Jordan United Arab Emirates Lebanon
Iraq 57 49 45 48 33 34
Democracy 4 9 2 6 12 16
Arab-Israeli Conflict 8 8 8 13 12 19
US treatment of Arabs and Muslims 28 32 40 28 32 22
Lebanon Breakdown by Religion, 2005
  Muslim Christian
Democracy 9 30
Arab-Israeli Conflict    
US treatment of Arabs and Muslims 30 8

On the other hand, the Bush Administration’s advocacy of democracy, the cornerstone of their policy toward the Middle East, appears to have resonated only among Christian Lebanese, who are the only sub-group to give the US an overall positive rating (57% favorable-39% unfavorable). Lebanese Muslims, both Sunni and Shia combined, give the US a strong negative rating of 14% favorable versus 80% unfavorable. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two countries which have been targeted for attention by US democracy initiatives, this advocacy won little support. In Egypt, for example, only 4% indicated that the “Bush Administration’s promotion of democracy determined their attitudes toward the US,” with most of them reporting that this effort soured their attitude toward the US. In Saudi Arabia, of the 9% who were impacted by the Administration’s advocacy for democratic reform, only one-third of this group said they reacted positively to this US effort. In other words, most Egyptians and Saudis appear to have reacted negatively to what they appear to perceive as improper meddling in their internal affairs. This result echoes another finding from our 2004 poll which shows that most Arabs did not want US involvement in their domestic politics.

The clear and sizable lesson emerging from this 2005 AAI/ZI Arab survey is that attitudes toward the US, though better, remain troubled and shaped by US policies that negatively impact the region. The promotion of democracy and reform, while appealing to some small groups, continue to be trumped by the war in Iraq and the more general perceptions of America’s poor treatment of Arabs and Muslims.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

comments powered by Disqus