Two years after US President Barack Obama called for a “new beginning” in relations with the Muslim world in a groundbreaking speech from Cairo, his popularity among Arabs has nosedived, a poll shows.
An overwhelming majority of more than 4,000 people surveyed in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE told the Arab American Institute that they felt that Mr Obama had not met the expectations he laid out in the June 2009 Cairo speech.
Mr Obama called in his Cairo speech for an end to the cycle of “suspicion and discord” between the United States and Muslim world, and outlined a new US blueprint for the Middle East, which included a Palestinian state and efforts to defuse a nuclear showdown with Iran.
But the poll, released on Wednesday, found that Arabs see the Obama administration’s handling of Middle East policy as having made no contribution to improving relations between them and the United States.
In fact, the two issues on which the US administration has invested “considerable energy – the Palestinian issue and engagement with the Muslim world – receive the lowest approval ratings,” the survey found.
Less than nine per cent of the people polled said the Obama administration has handled the two key issues well.
The Arab world’s image of the US as a whole has also soured to become even less favourable than during the last year of the administration of president George W Bush, under whom the US led an international coalition that invaded Iraq.
The killing by US Navy Seals of Osama bin Laden did little to improve Arabs’ views of the United States. Majorities in all six countries said they viewed the US less favourably after the killing of the Al Qaeda head in Pakistan.
The highest rating the United States got in the survey was from Saudi Arabia, where 30 per cent of those polled said they saw the US in a good light. The lowest rating came from Egypt – a mere five per cent.
In order to improve relations with the Arab world, the US should “resolve the Palestinian issue”, majorities said in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
The Lebanese were split between resolving the Palestinian issue and ending the war in Iraq, while a majority of Saudis thought relations would improve if the US could stop Iran’s nuclear programme.
The survey was commissioned after Mr Obama gave a speech on May 19 backing pro-democracy movements in the Arab world.
A majority of poll respondents in all six countries except the UAE said the situation in their country had worsened or not changed at all as a result of the Arab uprisings.
In Egypt, where protesters succeeded in ending decades of rule by Hosni Mubarak, 16 per cent said things were worse and 35 per cent said they noticed no effect at all after the uprising.