Bloomberg News

Obama ‘Skating on Thin Ice’ in Arab World as Popularity Plummets

July 14, 2011

July 14 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s popularity has plunged in the Arab World following a wave of popular uprisings and the U.S. opposition to a Palestinian quest for statehood at the United Nations.

The Zogby International survey of Arab attitudes toward the administration, commissioned by the Arab-American Institute (AAI), interviewed 4,000 people in six Arab nations -- Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- between May 25 and June 27. There is a margin of error between 3.5 percent and 5 percent, the report says.

“Enough damage has been done to U.S. standing in the region,” AAI President James Zogby, who analyzed the data, said in a telephone interview. “Obama is skating on thin ice and must tread very carefully now and not waste what little goodwill is left by pushing the Palestinians to back down.”

Support for the U.S. fell the most in Egypt, to 5 percent from 30 percent in 2008, when newly elected Obama addressed a university audience in Cairo and called for “new beginnings.” President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February after 18 days of protests during which the Obama administration’s response ranged from backing Mubarak to urging him to step aside. Only in Lebanon is U.S. standing little changed.

The survey sought to measure the impact on key Middle East states of Obama’s May 19 speech, which outlined U.S. foreign policy in the region in the aftermath of protests that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, threatened autocratic regimes in Yemen and Syria and prompted a UN-sanctioned resolution to bomb Libya.

Israel Borders

Obama asked Israel to agree to new talks on a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines,” endorsing a key Palestinian demand, while discouraging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from pursuing “symbolic actions” at the UN in September.

The Obama administration restarted talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas in September 2010 with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later -- a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.

Muslims in Morocco, Egypt and Jordan identify “continuing occupation of Palestinian lands” as the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, the survey showed. Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. identified “U.S. interference in the Arab World” as the biggest irritant, according to the poll.

Middle East envoy Tony Blair said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks can still be renewed before the UN considers a resolution on Palestinian statehood in September.

“It’s possible, and that’s what we’re going to work on,” Blair, a representative of the so-called Quartet -- the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- said in a Bloomberg Television interview today from Jerusalem. “The trouble is, even if we get through to September, and we have a debate at the United Nations, in the end that doesn’t deliver a Palestinian state.”

-- Editors: Steven Komarow, Ann Hughey.

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in Washington at fjackson@bloomberg.net; Caroline Alexander in London at calexander1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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