Friday, December 15, 2006

Arab attitudes toward U.S. grow more negative: poll

Arab attitudes toward U.S. grow more negative: poll
By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new survey shows Arab attitudes toward American people, products and culture grew increasingly negative last year, a finding that underscores the need for a change in U.S. Mideast policy, a leading expert on the region said on Thursday.

James Zogby, the head of the Arab American Institute, said the annual survey of opinion in five Arab countries found that U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Palestinian conflict were the main issues driving deteriorating Arab opinion.

"Our policies have not only had a worsening impact in terms of attitudes toward us but also in dampening confidence in the prospects for development and political stability and are therefore, I think, a real concern to countries in the region," Zogby said.

In previous years, Americans themselves had been viewed positively in most Arab countries, his group said.

President George W. Bush is preparing a change of course for the Iraq war after a bipartisan panel said U.S. strategy was not working and warned that Washington was losing its influence in the region.

The panel, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, also called for a renewed U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way to defuse regional tensions.

"What the poll says to me is Baker-Hamilton are right," Zogby said.

"If America wants to salvage itself and improve its standing and get the credibility and legitimacy it needs to lead in Iraq, it needs to do something to earn the trust of allies in the broader region," he said.

The survey released by the Arab American Institute found that more than 80 percent of people in Saudi Arabia and Egypt had negative opinions of the United States, similar to previous years, but attitudes worsened in Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon.

The biggest increases were in Jordan, where negative U.S. ratings climbed to 90 percent from 62 percent and Morocco, where they grew to 87 percent from 64 percent.

Attitudes toward American people, movies and democracy were more negative than positive in most of the five countries.

Only U.S. education was viewed more positively than negatively in the five countries.

Notably, residents had negative attitudes toward most U.S. policy in the region. Opinions were most negative about the Iraq war and the Palestinian conflict, but also opposed the United States' policy on Lebanon, its promotion of democracy in the region and its challenge of Iran's nuclear program.

The surveys were conducted in mid-November in face-to-face interviews. Sample size ranged from 600 to 800 in each country, and the margin of error for each sample was between 3.5 percent and 4.7 percent.