With Arabs, Obama never had a honeymoon
Two recent polls show that Arab nations have not embraced the president the way other areas of the world have.
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Only a small percentage of Arabs appear to have been won over by Barack Obama. There has been some slight improvement in US standing during the past year, based in part on the departure of President Bush and in part on Obama's policies, such as announcing a withdrawal from Iraq and a desire to shutter the Guantánamo detention facility. But one new poll suggests that America's "negatives" remain high in Egypt and Jordan in particular, as well as Saudi Arabia.
And when Arabs are asked to name the world leader they most admire, the new American president with "Hussein" for a middle name does not even figure on their list, according to a second poll. By contrast, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a renowned anti-American iconoclast, sits atop that list.
Arabs "are listening, they are hopeful – [but] they are not in love," says Shibley Telhami, a professor of Mideast affairs at the University of Maryland and principal investigator for one of the polls, the annual Arab Public Opinion Survey.
While Obama's negatives are considerably lower among Arabs than Mr. Bush's were, his positives are generally low. This sets the Arab world, roughly defined as the Middle East and norther Africa, decidedly apart from other regions of the world. Western Europe, for example, has enthusiastically embraced Obama.
"There is an uptick [in the Arab world's view of the US under Obama] but that uptick is soft," says James Zogby, senior analyst at Zogby International in Washington, which produced the other poll. Zogby International's survey of Arab opinion about Obama found that "the change is real but somewhat tentative," according to Mr. Zogby.
The United Arab Emirates emerges as the first Arab country to register a net positive view of the US. But the numbers regionwide are based on early impressions of Obama, Mr. Telhami adds, and are not yet an indication of a deeper shift. "This has not yet translated into significant change in their usual attitudes towards the US," he says.