Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Recent polls suggest Arab opinions of U.S. are alarmingly low

At a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill, U.S. lawmakers and regional experts discussed the results of a recent public opinion poll conducted throughout the Arab world that reveals a stark disconnect between relatively favorable perceptions of U.S. values, culture, and people, and overwhelmingly negative views toward American policy.

According to Dr. James Zogby of Zogby International, the U.S.-based company that conducted the study, this sense of resentment towards U.S. actions cuts across socioeconomic lines and is also evident among Arabs who have lived and worked with Americans.

The statistics Zogby cites are striking. Our approval ratings tend to fall below 20 percent throughout the region – including decidedly low marks in Saudi Arabia (8 percent) and Egypt (1 percent) – with the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Iraq war being cited as major sources of discontent. This rampant anti-Americanism, along with regional instability and economic depravity, has fueled support and/or tolerance for Islamic extremists, Zogby said. He added that regional discontent intensified even further in 2006 as the result of several key events: the controversy over Dubai Ports World, Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, and the steep escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Statistics from Egypt were perhaps the most arresting. In a country that receives billions in annual U.S. aid, 50 percent of residents polled saw a clash between the West and the Muslim world as inevitable, 75 percent said that strict Sharia law should be imposed in every Islamic country, the same percentage said that all U.S. policy in the region is aimed at “stealing oil,” and over 50 percent said that America and/or Israel had a hand in perpetrating the attacks of 9/11. Pollack linked these numbers to “virulently ant-American” media coverage in the country and a general suspicion of American motives in the U.S./Egypt partnership.

In Iraq findings were more mixed. While two-thirds of Iraqi respondents favored the withdrawal of U.S. troops within a year’s time, only one-third wanted forces to leave within 6 months. And while Iraqis of all ethnicities tended to disapprove of the actions of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, distinct differences across ethnic lines were apparent on the issue of U.S. occupation. Sunni Arabs harbored an overwhelming negative view of the U.S presence; Shiite Arabs were more moderate, but were still mostly critical; and the Kurds, who have benefited from U.S. protection in northern Iraq since the early 1990s, were mostly supportive.

While acknowledging the legitimacy and implications of the results, some committee members, as well as the other witness present, Dr. David Pollack of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, struck a defensive tone. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said he “struggled with being apologetic” when many of the countries in the region were “far from free,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) contended that approval for the ouster of Saddam Hussein was being underreported, and Pollack called the study “at best an imperfect snapshot of what people will say to strangers.”


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