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Despite Muslim Disapproval, Global Image Of United States Remains Positive

  • Richard Solash

One year after his Cairo speech, the modest uptick in U.S. favorability among Muslims has eroded.

One year after his Cairo speech, the modest uptick in U.S. favorability among Muslims has eroded.

In June of 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama took to the podium in Egypt's capital to try to make up ground in the widening divide between the Muslim world and the West.

One year after his Cairo speech, the modest uptick in U.S. favorability among Muslim nations has eroded, according to the newly released edition of the "Global Attitudes Project," a survey conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, which tracks public opinion around the world. The latest data is based on interviews of nearly 25,000 people in 22 countries.

"Over the past year, the Muslim publics that we sampled have grown more critical of President Obama and animosity toward the United States more generally continues unabated in Turkey and Pakistan, for example, where only 17 percent hold a positive view of the United States," Pew Center President Andrew Kohut told journalists in announcing the findings in Washington.

In Egypt, U.S. favorability also dropped to a five-year low of 17 percent. Over the past year confidence in Obama fell by 10 points in Turkey, considered the United States' closest Muslim ally. (Polling in that country was conducted before the U.S.-led passage of UN sanctions against Iran, a move that Turkey opposed.)

Among the majority Muslim nations surveyed, U.S. favorability remained highest in Indonesia, where Obama spent several years as a child.

Effect Of Counterterrorism

The survey didn't consider potential causes behind the trends it found, but Muslim countries also showed high disapproval ratings for U.S. counterterror efforts and strongly supported the removal of troops from Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan remains largely unpopular in the non-Muslim world as well, and 15 of the 21 countries outside of the U.S. that were surveyed think the United States still maintains a foreign policy that is too unilateralist. About as many of the countries surveyed disapprove of Obama's handling of the situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran as countries that largely approve.

Nevertheless, these concerns, coupled with the Muslim world's disapproval, have done little to dampen Obama's high global approval ratings.

In Germany, 90 percent of those surveyed expressed confidence in Obama, along with 76 percent in Japan and 84 percent in Nigeria.

The findings show that Obama is more popular outside the U.S. than at home, where his approval ratings hover around 44 percent, according to a June 4-6 Gallup poll.

"President Obama remains highly popular in most parts of the world, even though his job approval rating has slipped considerably in the United States," Kohut said, "and this continued popularity around the world benefits the image of the U.S. Opinions of the United States remain far more positive in 2010 than they were for much of the [George W. Bush] years."

Russians' Views

Those positive opinions extend to Russia as well, where the U.S. favorability rating has jumped 13 points to 57 percent.

Seven out of 10 Russians also backed the United States' antiterror efforts, significantly up from 2009.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who co-chairs the "Global Attitudes Project," sees the Obama administration's efforts to reset relations with Russia as behind the ratings rise.

Stronger relations between Washington and Moscow have led to a new nuclear arms control treaty and Russian support for new UN sanctions against Iran.

"Generally, Americans' favorability ratings make a big difference, not just because we want to be liked, but because it makes a difference in the way we're are able to fulfill what the policies are and what is good for the American people in operating in a globalized world," Albright said.

...Including On Iran

Almost 70 percent of Russians surveyed said they supported tougher economic sanctions against Iran, a sentiment that was registered from Britain to Mexico.

World data, said Kohut, suggested a united global front against Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"Majorities in nearly every country, including predominantly Muslim nations, opposed a nuclear-armed Iran," Kohut said. "There is widespread support for economic sanctions, and considerable support -- not widespread -- but considerable support for military force as a way of influencing Iran."

Of the countries surveyed, only Pakistan had a majority of respondents -- 58 percent -- who said they favored Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. In Lebanon, however, 91 percent of the Shi'ite population surveyed also favored a nuclear-armed Tehran.

The wide-ranging survey project also found that a growing number of publics see China, and not the United States, as the world's foremost economic power.

Data also showed that confidence in Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is on the rise in all five EU member states surveyed. His strongest backing is in Germany -- 50 percent -- and confidence in him has more than doubled in Poland over the past year.

The survey also found "only limited support" for terrorism among Muslim populations surveyed, although nearly half of Nigerian Muslims hold a favorable view of Al-Qaeda.

RFE/RL's Ladan Nekoomaram contributed to this report
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