As the United States and its allies seek to increase pressure on Damascus, there’s new evidence that the Arab world is turning sharply against the government of Bashar al-Assad.
A poll released Tuesday by the Arab American Institute Foundation finds that the overwhelming majority of those surveyed in six Arab countries side with Syrian demonstrators over Assad’s government. And asked whether they believed Assad could continue to govern, the vast majority in each country said they did not.
The results stand in stark contrast to those of a poll conducted by the same group three years ago, when respondents in five of 11 Arab countries ranked Assad among the most respected leaders in the region. At the time, few could have imagined the uprising in Syria and the government crackdown that has followed.
“What emerges in stark relief from the results of this poll is the degree to which the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad has become isolated and is looked on with near universal disfavor across the entire world,” the survey concludes.
The shift is a positive development for the Obama administration as it seeks to build support against Syria.
So far, however, public opposition to Assad has not fully translated into government-backed efforts to isolate him. Despite the attempts of several Gulf countries, the Arab League has declined to suspend Damascus’s membership or take other action against it.
Still, James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, said the poll shows how quickly the landscape of the Arab world has changed. He called it the “Arab Spring” effect.
“What an Arab leader could have gotten away with 30 years ago,” Zogby said, “he can’t get away with today.”
The coalescence of Arab support against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was key to the decision by the United States and its allies to intervene militarily. But Zogby said that policymakers shouldn’t try to draw parallels between Libya and Syria, and he cautioned against recent suggestions that military intervention be considered in the latter.
The poll shows the United States is widely viewed as playing a negative role in Syria, a reflection of the ever-present anti-U.S. sentiment in the region.
Zogby said the poll suggests that the Obama administration’s current approach is about what’s needed. “This is another situation where we are at best able to lead from behind,” he said. “I think the president does get it — and I hope that he maintains the position that he’s taken so far.”
Full results from the poll can be found here. It was conducted among 4,000 Arab participants in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.