Barack Obama entered office with high hopes of improving the U.S. image among Muslims worldwide. He hauled out his middle name, gave his first interview as president to Al-Arabiya television, quoted hadith, gave major speeches in Istanbul and Cairo, and talked ceaselessly of “respect” for Muslims. Where has all this gotten him?
The Gallup Poll conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults aged 15 and older in each of Mauritania, Algeria, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Iraq (a curious collection of places). It asked the same question once in 2008, twice in 2009, and now for the first of two times in 2010: “Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?” The margin of error ranges from ±3.1 percent to ±3.9 percent.
Gallup’s results show something of a wash: Obama does distinctly better than George W. Bush in Mauritania (going from 44 to 69 percent) and Egypt (6 to 19 percent). He improves on Bush just over the margin of error in Algeria (going from 25 to 30 percent). He improves on Bush within the margin of error in the Palestinian Territories (from 13 to 16 percent). The two are tied in Lebanon (at 25 percent). And Obama does worse than Bush in Iraq (going from 35 to 30 percent).
Also noteworthy is that Obama’s current standing has declined among all six of the populations from what it was in mid-2009. The smallest drop (3 percent) was in Iraq and the largest (18 percent) in Egypt.
Comments: (1) These polls register a highly unimpressive showing for someone who placed so much emphasis on improving U.S. standing among Muslims. (2) The graph of Arabic-speakers’ attitudes toward Obama differs from that of Americans’ views: The former went up and then down, while the latter went down and then flattened out. That said, both at present show a downward trend.
– Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.