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New poll: angry at US, Arabs support an Iran nuclear bomb

A majority of Arabs said it would be a positive development if the Iran nuclear program built a bomb – a first in the Arab Public Opinion Poll. Pollsters say it's part of an anti-US Arab backlash.

By Staff writer / August 6, 2010

Jewish settler youths look at Palestinian boys as they hold placards calling on US President Obama to 'stop blind support to Israel' during a protest against Jewish settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron on June. 12. Mr. Obama's inability to make any progress on the Palestinian question has upset Arabs.

Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP/file

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Washington

A new poll of Arab opinion finds that for the first time a majority of the public across the region – including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia – believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.

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The portion of the Arab population thinking that way has doubled since a similar survey a year ago, in part because of huge majorities this year in Egypt and Morocco. Egypt, which makes up a quarter of the Arab world, was not in last year’s survey.

The findings, however, say less about a change in Arab opinions of Iran than they do about a change in opinions about another country, say the organizers of the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Arabs have soured on the United States of Barack Obama.

The poll finds that Arabs have traded in last year’s “wait-and-see” attitude toward the new American president in favor of something much more negative, and the support for Iran is, in many ways, being seen as one part of that anger.

“What this poll reveals is a backlash against the United States, reflecting the loss of hope that people had in what they thought were to be the policies of the new President Obama,” says Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland Middle East expert, who conducted the poll with the polling firm Zogby International. “It’s really people venting by supporting ‘the enemy of my enemy.’”

Enemy again

This year’s poll finds that large majorities of Arabs list the United States and Israel as the region’s worst enemies, far above Iran. The US returns to one of the top rungs of the “enemies list” after having been judged positively by a small majority of Arabs last year, a shift from past years that Mr. Telhami qualifies as nothing short of “amazing” given longstanding Arab views of the US.

In 2009, 51 percent of the public was “optimistic” about the US. This year, nearly two-thirds say they are “discouraged” about America’s actions in the region.

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