Posted on December 09, 2002 in Washington Watch

Americans are frequently asked by public opinion pollsters to give their evaluations of other countries in the world. Most often, respondents are asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward these other nations. Until now, no such systematic effort has ever before been made to determine how Arab public opinion feels about other countries in the world. The recently released book What Arabs Think, a landmark view of Arab public opinion, commissioned by the Arab Thought Foundation, undertakes such an investigation.

Utilizing the same methodology and approach used in surveying US public opinion, Arab respondents from eight countries were asked to describe their attitudes, both favorable and unfavorable, toward thirteen other countries from different parts of the world. The countries evaluated were: Russia, China, United States of America, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, Turkey, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The results of this survey are fascinating.

Some Observations About the Countries Under Evaluation

Of all the countries covered in the poll, only France received a consistent net positive rating from respondents in all eight Arab countries. France’s best favorable to unfavorable ratio comes from Morocco and Lebanon, where nine in 10 were positive, while its poorest showing is still a net positive score of 50% in Saudi Arabia.

Canada, Japan and Iran received positive favorability ratings from respondents in six of the eight countries surveyed, while China and Germany were viewed positively in five of the eight Arab countries.

It might be surprising to some to note that Iran received very high favorable ratings in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and also recorded high positive ratings in Lebanon and Egypt.

At the other end of the continuum, Israel received the lowest favorability score of any of the thirteen countries covered in our study, only breaking out of single digit favorability ratings among its own Arab citizens. Still, this community gave Israel only a 16% favorability rating. In no other country did the state score higher than eight percent.

Also receiving net negative scores from respondents in all eight countries were the US and the United Kingdom. The favorability ratio given to the US was significantly lower than that given to the UK, and was especially low in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and among Arabs in Israel. (It is interesting, for comparison purposes, to contrast the very negative attitudes of the Arab respondents to these two English speaking countries with more positive Arab attitudes toward Canada).

Turkey also did quite poorly, receiving only slightly net positive ratings in two of the eight countries surveyed.

Observations About the Arab Respondents

Overall, Jordanians seemed to be the most favorably inclined toward the countries covered in the survey. They granted positive favorability ratings to nine of the thirteen countries under evaluation, although none received exceptionally high positive percentages.

While Lebanese rated eight countries favorably, the favorability scores they offered to those countries were among the highest of all of those given by Arab respondents. The Lebanese gave six countries greater than a 60% favorability rating, with five of the six receiving a greater than two to one favorability ratio.

Other Arab countries expressing far more positive than negative feelings toward the thirteen countries covered in the study were Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Clearly, the responses point to an Arab concern with the US and Israel. It is not, as some might hasten to construe, an anti-Western sentiment at work, since France and Canada, both Western countries, were among the countries receiving the highest favorability ratings. Germany also received strong positive scores from most Arab respondents.

As we found in an earlier study conducted by Zogby International in April of 2002, Arab unfavorable attitudes toward the US were a function of US policy in the Arab world. In that study, which we called “Impressions of America,” we found that although Arabs who were polled in five Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon and UAE) had strong favorable attitudes toward American “Science and Technology,” “Freedom and Democracy,” “Education,” “Movies and Television,” and also had largely favorable attitudes toward the American people. However, they had extremely negative attitudes toward US policy vis-Ã -vis the Arab world, Iraq, and most especially toward Palestine.

The book What Arabs Think actually takes this examination of Arab attitudes toward the US one step further by asking the 3,800 respondents from the eight Arab countries surveyed an open-ended question: “What can the United States do to improve its relations with the Arab World?” While responses varied from country to country, it was striking that in all eight countries, between one-third to one-half of all respondents made specific reference to US policy toward Israel. They asked that the US act to stop Israel’s illegal behavior, sever ties with Israel, or simply develop a more balanced policy vis-Ã -vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another one-third of all respondents spoke more generally about the need for the US to be more respectful or fair in its relations with the Arabs.

It is useful to note that What Arabs Think also makes clear that Arabs, like people all over the world, do not focus much on foreign policy or on relations with other countries. In fact, when asked to rank the importance they place on a number of political issues, Arabs rank foreign policy last. But Palestine and the treatment of Palestinians are not seen as foreign policy issues. They are intensely personal concerns for many Arabs, and, therefore, rank quite high in importance.

How are Arab attitudes shaped toward other countries? Quite logically, it appears that Arabs judge other countries according to how they perceive those countries treat them or deal with issues that are important to them.

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