Saturday, 7 August 2010

Obama down, Iran up in Arab eyes

In the past year, President Obama has looked to resuscitate peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Meanwhile, Iran has come under ever-greater scrutiny from the international community (or what should be called Germany, France, the UK and US). Even in the Arab world, many governments have voiced serious concern about Iran potentially developing nuclear weapons.

Well, in a recent poll conducted by Brooking's Shibley Telhami (in 2010) of six Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco and the UAE), the answers were both perplexing and likely disconcerting for the Obama administration. Here are a couple of snapshots:

In 2010, a significant majority of Arabs not only believe that Iranian nuclear weapons is not a negative, but that it is a positive outcome for the region. Moreover, 63% of Arabs are discouraged by Obama's policy in the Middle East. The same report shows that while in 2009 23% had a negative view of the President, in 2010 this has ballooned to 62%. Obviously the driver of this disappointment is the issue of Palestine/Israel (61% are most disappointed with this aspect of Obama's foreign policy approach). While this is in a way 'bad news' for Obama and the US, it masks the fact that overall attitudes towards the US have softened since Bush left office. Telhami's poll shows that 64% of Arabs had an unfavorable view of the US in 2008; however in 2009 that dropped to 46% and has held at 47% in 2010.

While 57% of Arabs believe that Iran's nuclear program is not for peaceful purposes but to develop weapons, 77% believe Iran has a right to its nuclear program. When asked which two countries pose the biggest threat to you, only 10% answered Iran (as one of the two); a whopping 88% listed Israel, and 77% named the US. When asked which world leader (outside your own country) do you admire most, the top 5 responses were: Turkish PM Erdogan, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Iranian President Ahmadinajad, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Of course, when asked which country would they prefer to live, respondents chose France - burqa ban and all. Read the full report online.

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