Poll: Obama more popular than U.S. in the Middle East

Poll: Obama more popular than U.S. in the Middle East

McClatchy reports on the Middle East’s love affair with U.S. President Barack Obama:

The poll of six Arab nations found that residents think that Obama will have a positive impact on the Middle East — a region marked by war, religious disputes, ethnic and sectarian violence — as well as on the United States and the rest of the world.

Obama scored highest in Jordan, where 58 percent of its citizens have a favorable opinion of him, 29 percent have an unfavorable view, 6 percent had no opinion and 7 percent didn’t know.

Saudi Arabians have a 53 percent favorable opinion of Obama, followed by 52 percent in the United Arab Emirates. From there, Obama’s popularity dips below 50 percent with a 47 percent favorability rating in Kuwait, 43 percent in Lebanon and 35 percent in Egypt. In none of these countries, however, was Obama’s unfavorable rating higher than his favorable one.

In contrast, only 38 percent of Saudis have a favorable view of the United States, followed by 36 percent of Jordanians, 34 percent of UAE residents, 31 percent of Lebanese and 22 percent of Egyptians.

Notably, Egypt ranks dead last on both poll questions, but it’s also the site of Obama’s upcoming address to the Arab and Muslim worlds. The country is also the thankless recipient of billions in U.S. economic and military aid.

As my colleague Marc Lynch explains, it’s not an ideal venue. “The choice of Cairo is already being interpreted by many Arabs and Egyptians as proof that Obama has abandoned democracy and human rights promotion,” he writes, adding, “Obama could take advantage of the location to forcefully speak out in favor of democratization and human rights.”

I’d counter that Egyptians’ cynicism about the United States is fully warranted, and likely to be vindicated by events. They understand quite well that, no matter who is in power, every U.S. president ultimately prioritizes keeping its preferential Suez Canal access, maintaining peace with Israel, and having a pliant ally in the region over meaningful support for human rights and democracy in Egypt.

For Egyptians, it won’t matter, except in the short run, what Obama says in Cairo. It matters what America does, and his administration has already staked its position. Here’s Gates last week:

Q: U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?
SEC. GATES: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that’s in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position.