The hope that the Arab world had not long ago put in the United States and President Obama has all but evaporated.
Two and a half years after Obama came to office, raising expectations for change among many in the Arab world, favorable ratings of the United States have plummeted in the Middle East, according to a new poll conducted by IBOPE Zogby International for the Arab American Institute Foundation.
In most countries surveyed, favorable attitudes toward the United States dropped to levels lower than they were during the last year of the Bush administration. The killing of Osama bin Laden also worsened attitudes toward the United States.
In Saudi Arabia, for instance, 30 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the United States (compared with 41 percent in 2009), while roughly 5 percent said the same in Egypt (compared with 30 percent in 2009).
“The very high expectations that were created in 2009 – there’s been a letdown since then,” said James Zogby, the president and founder of the Arab American Institute, of which the foundation is an affiliate.
Fewer than 10 percent of respondents described themselves as having a favorable view of Obama. The president’s ratings were the lowest on “the Palestinian issue” and “engagement with the Muslim world,” as the categories were described in the survey.
The poll was conducted over the course of a month among 4,000 respondents in six countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. Pollsters began their work shortly after a major speech Obama gave on the Middle East, in which he spoke broadly of his vision in the Middle East and pressed Israel, in unusually frank terms, to reach a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.
The findings are largely in line with those of a poll conducted in the spring of 2010 by the Pew Research Center, which also found favorable views of the United States and Obama slipping. As with the new poll, Obama got his worst ratings for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Zogby said he saw the president about a month ago and mentioned that he was conducting another poll of views in the Arab world. The president, Zogby said, predicted that views of the United States would remain unfavorable because of the intractable nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Zogby said that he was surprised that favorable attitudes toward the United States had actually dropped to levels below where they were in 2008. By the same token, he said, Obama has been burdened by the fact that “every one of the issues that he’s inherited has been more difficult than he or anyone else expected.”
Obama, for instance, has had to make difficult decisions on Iraq and on Afghanistan, and try to set down new markers for progress among Israelis and Palestinians.
“He didn’t get a magic wand when he took the oath office,” Zogby said. “They handed him a shovel to get out of a deep hole.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the poll had been conducted by Zogby International. The firm is now known as IBOPE Zogby International.