Poll Shows Growing Arab Rancor at U.S.
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2004; Page A26
Arab views of the United States, shaped largely by the Iraq war and a post-Sept. 11 climate of fear, have worsened in the past two years to such an extent that in Egypt -- an important ally in the region -- nearly 100 percent of the population now holds an unfavorable opinion of the country, according to two polls due out today.
Both surveys were conducted in June by Zogby International and polled Arab men and women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
The findings reflect the concerns raised in the Sept. 11 commission report released yesterday, which emphasized a losing battle for public opinion. "Support for the United States has plummeted," the commissioners wrote.
"What we're seeing now is a disturbing sympathy with al Qaeda coupled with resentment toward the United States, and we ought to be extremely troubled by that," said Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who commissioned one of the surveys.
The other survey, titled "Impressions of America," charts a dramatic overall decline in positive views by comparing current attitudes with those sampled in April 2002.
"In 2002, the single policy issue that drove opinion was the Palestinians; now it's Iraq and America's treatment, here and abroad, of Arabs and Muslims," said James Zogby, who commissioned the report with the Arab American Institute.
In Zogby's 2002 survey, 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98 percent this year. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in June. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87 percent who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73 percent this year.
Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: "What is the first thought when you hear 'America'?" respondents overwhelmingly said: "Unfair foreign policy."
And when asked what the United States could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were "Stop supporting Israel" and "Change your Middle East policy."
In the survey for Telhami, participants expressed deeply negative and suspicious attitudes toward the Iraq war, as well as disdain for President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden tied for fourth place on a list of most admired world leaders. Jacques Chirac of France was first on that list, despite a ban on Muslim headscarves in French schools. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the long-deceased Egyptian nationalist who went to war with Israel, was No. 2, followed by Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein's rule. The majority also said they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world.
Telhami, who is collecting statistics for an upcoming book on the Arab world, said the "United States had it right when it said after Sept. 11 that we would battle for hearts and minds. But, unfortunately, things went the way al Qaeda wanted them to go rather than the way the U.S. wanted them to go in terms of public opinion."