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Arab Public Opinion Deeply Ambivalent About U.S.
Published on Wednesday, October 9, 2002 by the Inter Press Service
Arab Public Opinion Deeply Ambivalent About U.S.
by Jim Lobe
 

WASHINGTON- Public opinion across the Arab world is deeply ambivalent about the United States, which is widely admired for its technological prowess and political institutions but disdained and even hatred for its policies toward Palestinians and Israel, says an unprecedented survey released here Tuesday.

The survey, whose results directly contradict declarations by top U.S. officials that Arab opposition to Washington derives from hatred of western ideals of democracy and freedom rather than U.S. policies, found that other western countries, particularly France and Canada, were widely respected throughout the Arab world.

''They like our values but are angry at our policies,'' said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), an influential, Washington-based lobby and public-education group.

The survey was based on face-to-face interviews last April and May of 3,800 adult Arabs in eight countries: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Each respondent was asked 92 questions covering their personal values, political attitudes and priorities, and views of other countries.

It was funded by the Beirut-based Arab Thought Foundation and carried out by Washington-based Zogby International.

The unprecedented survey was undertaken in part to better define who Arabs are, particularly in the aftermath of last year's Sep. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, when U.S. public opinion became fixated on the question, ''Why do they hate us?''

The administration of President George W. Bush and its supporters in the Christian Right and the mainly Jewish neo-conservative movements claimed the attacks were inspired by Arab hatred for western values and ''what we stand for''.

But experts on the region, as well as Middle Eastern governments, insisted that whatever anger was directed at Washington was due to the perception that its policies were unfair, especially to Palestinians.

An earlier poll released by Zogby International last April appeared to bear that out. It found that large majorities of respondents in five countries, including several Gulf states and Egypt, felt very positively about U.S. science and technology, education, exports, and political values.

''They told us in effect that they hated U.S. policy toward Iraq, toward other Arab counties, and most of all, U.S. policy toward Israel,'' said John Zogby, the firm's CEO, who is also James Zogby's brother.

The latest survey was aimed more at determining the personal values and perspectives of Arabs.

What it found is that Arabs, like most other ethnic and other groups around the world, are focused most on matters close to home, said James Zogby.

Asked to choose among a list of a dozen values they felt were important to teach their children, respondents selected ''self-respect, good health and hygiene, personal responsibility, respect for elders and working to achieve a better life'', according to the report.

When asked to rank political issues that were of importance to them, respondents placed civil and personal rights at the top, followed closely by health care.

But, in a highly significant twist, respondents ranked ''Palestine'' and ''the rights of Palestinians'' with their personal economic situation as the next-ranking concerns, far ahead of other issues, such as their national economies and their country's relationship with other Arab or non-Arab countries.

Palestine ranked as the highest political concern for Saudis and Moroccans, third highest among Egyptians, and fourth among Jordanians and Israeli Arabs.

''The issue of Palestine doesn't exist as a foreign-policy concern,'' said James Zogby. ''Palestine is an existential, a personal issue,'' he noted, adding that Arabs may view it similarly to how U.S. Jews see the Nazi Holocaust.

As a result, Arabs' views about how Palestinians are being treated appear to play a major role in how they rate foreign countries, particularly the United States, he suggested.

Asked to rank 13 foreign countries, Israel consistently scored the lowest marks by far, followed, almost invariably, by the United States and the United Kingdom -- the two western countries most closely identified with support for Israel -- in that order. Respondents from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt gave the United States the lowest marks.

''The attitudes toward the U.S. are framed in terms of its relationship with Israel,'' said James Zogby.

On the other hand, France, Canada, Japan, and Iran all received positive ratings from six of the eight countries covered by the survey, while China and Germany were viewed positively in five of the eight.

Those ranked in the middle included Russia, India, Pakistan and Turkey, although Turkey also received consistently negative scores.

Turkey's poor ratings in comparison to Iran were particularly striking. Neo-conservative commentators close to the anti-Iraq hawks in the Bush administration cite Turkey, whose military has close ties with Israel, as the model on which a ''liberated'' Iraq should be rebuilt.

On other issues, the survey found that a significant plurality of Arabs in seven of the eight countries prefer to identify themselves as ''Arabs'' rather than as citizens of specific countries or adherents of Islam or other religions. ''The nation-state is still new,'' noted James Zogby.

The one exception was Lebanon, where respondents said they preferred to be identified as Lebanese rather than as belonging to any specific religious or ethnic group.

John Zogby said that the office of public diplomacy at the State Department, which has mounted a number of major initiatives designed to affect Arab and Islamic opinion toward the United States, has taken an interest in his firm's two surveys and may have used its earlier work in setting up Radio Sawa, which broadcasts music and news in the Middle East.

Copyright 2002 IPS

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