Shibley Telhami has just released the results of the latest round of his six-nation surveys of Arab public opinion, his first since 2006 (covering Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE). All the usual disclaimers about survey research in the Arab world apply. Most headlines will focus on attitudes towards the United States (still, amazingly enough, not positive: 4% claim very favorable views of the US and 11% somewhat favorable - a next increase of 3% on the "somewhat" in the last two years) or the most admired leader (two Shia figures, Hassan Nasrullah (26%) and Mahmoud Ahmedenejad (10%), while Bashar al-Assad scores 16% - up from 2% in 2006, for some reason, and nobody else cracking double figures - bin Laden's 6% ties him with the most popular Western figure, Nicolas Sarkozy). As always, I find some of the internal questions more interesting, especially those which have been asked in consecutive surveys which give some trends.
The questions about Iraq reveal an intriguing combination of skepticism about the current state of affairs but a degree of conditional confidence about the future. There has been little rethinking of past opposition to the war or of its consequences: 81% say that the Iraqi people are worse off than before the war and only 2% say they are better off. Concerns about spreading Iranian power seem to have diminished in salience, however, compared with fears of instability: only 8% name "Iran is a more powerful state" as one of their two greatest concerns about Iraq, down from 15% in 2006, while 59% say "Iraq will remain unstable and spread instability in the region" (up from 42%).
The respondents do not seem much impressed with the "surge": 36% do not believe the reports about the reduction in violence; 31% say that the reduction in violence is the product of factors unrelated to the surge and it is only a matter of time before violence increases again; 25% say that for whatever reason (American policy or internal developments) Iraq is headed towards a stable political settlement. That's probably higher than in 2006, though no trend line is given there. But at the same time, if the US withdraws quickly, then 61% say that Iraqis will find a way to bridge their differences while only 15% believe that civil war will expand rapidl (down from 24% in 2006).
Finally, in both 2006 and 2008, brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace and withdrawing from Iraq were the top two responses to a question about what two things the US could do to improve its image in the region. But there has been an enormously dramatic shift: the spread between the two options has dropped from 29% in 2006 to 6% last month. In 2006, 62% said "broker Israeli-Palestinian peace" and 33% said "withdraw from Iraq", while this year 50% said Israel- Palestine peace while 44% said withdraw from Iraq. This suggests that while the Palestinian issue remains central, Iraq has become an issue of near-equal salience and force for Arab publics.
A couple of observations about the attitudes towards America, beyond the headline number. It's disturbing to see the very, very low numbers on questions about where they would prefer to live (7% say the US) or where they would prefer to see a family member study (11% say the US). It's also troubling that 20% say that they are not following the US presidential elections while 32% say that the elections make no difference. The intense Arab interest in the 2004 Presidential election has been a reassuring signal that they believed elections mattered and US policy could change; if that's changing, it suggests that views have become more entrenched. Finally, the survey didn't directly ask about Presidential preferences, but instead asked who had "the best chance of advancing peace in the Middle East": only 4% chose McCain, while 18% rate Obama the highest and 13% Clinton.
On the media front, Al-Jazeera remains the runaway favorite: 53% say it is the network whose news broadcasts they watch the most often, with al-Arabiya at 9% and al-Hurra and al-Manar tied at 2%. While this presentation doesn't include the data, I know that the "second choice" data showed that as in the past al-Jazeera remains the one station which virtually everybody watched across the region even when it is not the first choice. For all the talk of changes at al-Jazeera, respondents did not report any feeling that the station's quality had declined. There's clear variation across countries. Al-Jazeera dominates Egypt (55%, with Egyptian networks scoring 31%, al-Arabiya 6%, and al-Hurra 1%) and Morocco (59% AJ, 3% AA, 1% AH). While al-Jazeera remains the clear leader, the media arena is more balanced in Jordan (46% AJ, 31% AA, 15% AH) and Saudi Arabia (40% AJ, 26% AA, 1% AH). Lebanon, as always, is its own media creature with a variety of its own intensely competing and stations.
There's a lot more interesting findings there, including views of the Fatah-Hamas conflict and the Hezbollah-Siniora conflict. You can download the slides at the above link.