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What Do Arabs Think?

Arutz Sheva December 20, 2002

In a recent edition of the Jordan Times, James J. Zogby of the Arab American Institute wrote an article surveying the views of Arabs in the Middle East regarding other countries in the world. His article was based on a wide-ranging, systematic survey of Arab public opinion, on a variety of issues, carried out by the Arab Thought Foundation and published as a book called What Arabs Think: Values Beliefs and Concerns. The survey was carried out in eight countries, with American survey methodologies, among 3,800 respondents. In the article, Zogby explains that the overall rating of Arab attitudes to various states, including Iran, the United States, Israel and India, was based on the ratio of favorable to unfavorable attitudes expressed by those polled. Accordingly, the only country that was viewed favorably, on balance, in all eight Arab countries surveyed, was France. And the countries viewed negatively overall by respondents in all eight Arab countries were Israel, the United States of America and Britain.

Going further in depth, Zogby notes that “France’s best favourable to unfavourable ratio comes from Morocco and Lebanon, where nine in 10 were positive, while its poorest showing is still a net positive score of 50 per cent in Saudi Arabia.” Other countries reported to have received positive ratings in a majority of the Arab states were Canada, Japan, China, Germany, and Iran. As the Jordan Times article states, “It might be surprising to some to note that Iran received very high favourable ratings in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and also recorded high positive ratings in Lebanon and Egypt.”

Israel, unsurprisingly, received the lowest score of all the thirteen countries respondents were asked about. However, in an interesting aside, Zogby notes that Israel succeeded in “breaking out of single digit favourability ratings among its own Arab citizens.” But even that was only a 16 percent favorability rating, while “[i]n no other country did the state score higher than eight per cent,” Zogby writes.

Another state universally viewed unfavorably overall was the United States, reports Zogby, with ratings “especially low in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and among Arabs in Israel.” The United Kingdom, while still viewed negatively throughout the Arab world, received significantly higher scores than the US, according to the Jordan Times piece. Zogby writes, parenthetically, “It is interesting, for comparison purposes, to contrast the very negative attitudes of the Arab respondents to these two English speaking countries with more positive Arab attitudes towards Canada.”

Apparently expecting the negative view of the US among Arab respondents, the pollsters also asked, “What can the United States do to improve its relations with the Arab world?” The Jordan Times piece reports that “in all eight countries, between one-third to one-half of all respondents made specific reference to US policy towards Israel. They asked that the US act to stop Israel’s illegal behaviour, sever ties with Israel, or simply develop a more balanced policy vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another one-third of all respondents spoke more generally about the need for the US to be more respectful or fair in its relations with the Arabs.”

Zogby presents his analysis of the responses in the Jordanian newspaper: “Clearly, the responses point to an Arab concern with the US and Israel. It is not, as some might hasten to construe, an anti-Western sentiment at work, since France and Canada, both Western countries, were among the countries receiving the highest favourability ratings. Germany also received strong positive scores from most Arab respondents.” According to the respected Zogby International polling agency, the article reports, “[I]n an earlier study conducted by Zogby International in April of 2002, Arab unfavourable attitudes towards the US were a function of US policy in the Arab world. …[T]hey had extremely negative attitudes towards US policy vis-a-vis the Arab world, Iraq and, most especially, towards Palestine.” Yet, according to Zogby, Arab attitudes to Americans and American culture in general are “largely positive” and, in any case, foreign policy issues are ranked low in importance among Arab people in the Middle East. Therefore, he concludes, “Palestine and the treatment of Palestinians are not seen as foreign policy issues. They are intensely personal concerns for many Arabs and, therefore, rank quite high in importance.”

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