12 August 2010

Arabs support a nuclear-armed Iran

The Brookings Institution's annual Arab Public Opinion Poll has shown some remarkable changes in Arab views in the past year. The survey, conducted in late July in six Middle Eastern countries - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - shows, for example, that a positive view of  U.S. President Obama has declined form 45 per cent to 20 per cent while a negative view has increased from 23 per cent to 62 per cent. This echoes the dramatic increase from last year's 15 per cent of Arabs who were "discouraged" by the U.S. administration's Middle East policy to the 63 per cent who are discouraged this year. The number who said they felt "hopeful" shrunk from 51 per cent to 16 per cent.

The survey indicated other shifting currents in the Middle East. For example, for the first time in recent years, more Arabs said they identified as Muslims rather than as citizens of their country. But most surprisingly, and most disturbingly, not only do an increasing majority believe Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program even if it is seeking weapons, 57 per cent now say that Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would be positive for the Middle East.

As support for Obama has declined, support for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has soared. The survey indicated he is now the most popular leader in the Arab world. Obama's fall and Erdogan's rise has no doubt been boosted by the Israeli raid on the aid flotilla. Indeed, Palestine remains the great sticking point for improved relations between the U.S. and the Arabs. Of the American policies with which the survey respondents were most disappointed, 61 per cent chose Palestine/Israel. Iraq was a distant second at 27 per cent.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said they were prepared for peace with Israel if it was willing to return all the territory it has occupied since the 1967 Six Day War, including East Jerusalem, but most don't believe that will happen for a long time.

It appears that until the United States leans on Israel sufficiently to push it into a fair deal with the Palestinians, American and Arab relations will either stagnate of get worse, an unhealthy situation both for the Middle East and the rest of the world.

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