Arab public opinion 2011

Arab views of the United States improved over the past year, but still have a long way to go according to the 2011 edition of the annual survey of six Arab countries conducted by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland this October. And Arab publics remain broadly supportive of uprisings around the region, and ...

546761_pollresult_02.jpg
546761_pollresult_02.jpg

Arab views of the United States improved over the past year, but still have a long way to go according to the 2011 edition of the annual survey of six Arab countries conducted by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland this October. And Arab publics remain broadly supportive of uprisings around the region, and guardedly optimistic about the future. 

 The Obama administration's efforts to grapple with the Arab spring seem to have improved Arab views of the United States to some extent, but the survey shows the steep obstacles to such engagement. America's image rebounded from 10% favorable in 2010 to 26% favorable, largely among those who see that it has played a positive role in responding to the Arab uprisings. That compares to 12% favorable in 2006 and 15% in 2008.  The jump to 26% is a significant increase, but it's obviously still a very low number.

  52% now say they are disappointed in the Obama administration, a majority but down from 65% last year. And 34% now have positive views of Obama himself, a 19 point gain from 2010. Arab disappointment in the administration is still mostly driven by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the survey. Only 5% named a failure to promote democracy as the main cause for their disappointment (though that's up from 1% the previous year), while 23% named its efforts on democracy and human rights as a positive.  

Arab views of the United States improved over the past year, but still have a long way to go according to the 2011 edition of the annual survey of six Arab countries conducted by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland this October. And Arab publics remain broadly supportive of uprisings around the region, and guardedly optimistic about the future. 

 The Obama administration’s efforts to grapple with the Arab spring seem to have improved Arab views of the United States to some extent, but the survey shows the steep obstacles to such engagement. America’s image rebounded from 10% favorable in 2010 to 26% favorable, largely among those who see that it has played a positive role in responding to the Arab uprisings. That compares to 12% favorable in 2006 and 15% in 2008.  The jump to 26% is a significant increase, but it’s obviously still a very low number.

  52% now say they are disappointed in the Obama administration, a majority but down from 65% last year. And 34% now have positive views of Obama himself, a 19 point gain from 2010. Arab disappointment in the administration is still mostly driven by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the survey. Only 5% named a failure to promote democracy as the main cause for their disappointment (though that’s up from 1% the previous year), while 23% named its efforts on democracy and human rights as a positive.  

The poll found that 55% of respondents said that they were more optimistic about the future of the Arab world now, and only 16% said they were more pessimistic. The survey suggests strong and wide support for popular uprisings across the region: 86% say they support the rebels against the government in Syria and 89% say the same about Yemen. But only 64% said they supported the Bahraini opposition, still a majority but a 20 point gap which likely attests to the effectiveness of Bahraini and Saudi propaganda and sectarian narratives. Only 35% now say that the intervention in Libya was the right thing to do — quite a decline from the enthusiasm in the spring. And a plurality of Egyptians (43%) thought that the military leadership is working to slow or reverse the gains of the revolution – a telling sign of the growing disenchantment which exploded on the streets this weekend.

 Meanwhile, Turkey remains broadly popular, and its Prime Minister Recep Erdogan the single most popular statesman in the survey for the second year running.  The survey found little Iranian appeal as a political model, but it did reveal a decline in Arab enthusiasm for containing Iran as 64% now say that Iran has a right to its nuclear program, up from 53% last year. 

As with all survey research in the Arab world, these numbers should be approached with caution. But it’s still a useful snapshot of mass attitudes at a time when public opinion matters ever more intensely in Arab politics. 

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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