New Zogby poll: 80 % of moderate Arabs say Israel and the U.S. are their two biggest external threats. 6% cited Iran

The last post which covered President Assad's recent interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, generated an intense discussion that focused in part on the popularity, or lack of popularity, of president Assad's regional policies. Many of the commentators argued that Bashar's decision to cooperate with Iran which contributed to a political confrontation with Saudi Arabia, was a terrible mistake that led to a deterioration in Syria's regional standing. The same commentators seem to be convinced that Bashar's alliance with Iran is surely not in harmony with the wishes of the majority of Syrian people.

To help answer some of the open questions in our discussions, here is a poll designed by Shibley Telhami (Brookings institution) and conducted by Zogby International in "the moderate Arab states" of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, the UAE and Jordan… America's allies in the fight against Iran.

Unfortunately the poll was not conducted in Syria and its results do not reveal any information regarding the preferences of the Syrian people, but with the clarity of the results from the Moderate Sunni Arab states one can probably assume more polarized opinions from Syria.




Arabs Less Worried About Iran
by Jim Lobe

U.S. and Israeli hopes of forging of a Sunni Arab alliance to contain Iran and its regional allies may be misplaced, at least at the popular level, according to a major survey of six Arab countries released here Thursday.

The face-to-face survey of a total of 3,850 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates found that close to 80 percent of Arabs consider Israel and the United States the two biggest external threats to their security. Only six percent cited Iran.

And less than one in four Arabs believe Iran should be pressured to halt its nuclear program, while 61 percent, including majorities in all six countries, said Tehran had the right to pursue it even if, as most believe, the program is designed to develop nuclear weapons.

The poll, the fifth in an annual series conducted by Zogby International and designed by Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, was carried out in November and early December – after last summer's war between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israel, but just before the controversial execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The latter event has widened the divide between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims throughout the region, according to some reports, and played into recent efforts by the U.S. to forge a de facto alliance between Israel and Sunni-led Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf sheikhdoms, to contain what they see growing Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.

But Telhami, who will present his findings at a major Brookings-sponsored conference of Islamic leaders in Doha next week, told IPS he doubts these sectarian tensions are changing basic attitudes among the general public on key regional issues in the countries covered in the survey, with the exception of Lebanon.

"The public of the Arab world is not looking at the important issues through the Sunni-Shi'ite divide," he said. "They see them rather through the lens of Israeli-Palestinian issues and anger with U.S. policy (in the region). Most Sunni Arabs take the side of the Shi'ites on the important issues."

Indeed, the survey strongly suggests that the U.S., whose image in the Arab world has fallen to an all-time low over the past year according to this and other recent polling, faces a steep uphill battle in rallying Arab public opinion behind it on critical regional questions.

More than three out of four of all respondents described their attitudes towards Washington as either "somewhat" (21 percent) or "very" (57 percent) unfavorable. Negative feelings were strongest in the three monarchies: Jordan, where 90 percent of respondents described their views as unfavorable., Morocco (87 percent), and Saudi Arabia (82 percent).

After aggregating the poll results in each country and weighting them by national population, the survey found that nearly four out of 10 Arabs named President George W. Bush as the foreign leader they most disliked, far ahead of two Israeli leaders, Ariel Sharon (11 percent) and his successor, Ehud Olmert (seven percent).

That result was particularly remarkable, according to Telhami, because, in his 2005 survey, Sharon led Bush in the "most disliked" category by a 45-30 percent margin. Even in Lebanon, Bush was found to be more than twice as disliked as Olmert, despite the latter's responsibility for destroying much of the country's infrastructure during last summer's war with Hezbollah.

The most effective way for Bush to improve Arab views of the U.S., according to the survey, would be by brokering a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on Israel's return to its 1967 borders.

Asked to choose among six possible steps Washington could take to improve its image, substantial majorities or pluralities of respondents in every country except Saudi Arabia opted for a comprehensive peace settlement. The other choices included withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and from the Arabian Peninsula, stopping aid to Israel, promoting democracy and providing more economic aid to the region.

Ironically, only 16 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia, whose leaders have pressed Bush hardest in recent months for a more vigorous U.S. effort to achieve a peace agreement, chose the Arab-Israeli option. That was their fourth choice, behind withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and stopping aid to Israel.

Asked to rate the importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict in developing their attitudes towards the U.S. on a five-point scale, 76 percent of Jordanians, 65 percent of Moroccans, 62 percent of Lebanese, and 54 percent of Saudis gave it a five, or "extremely important".

Majorities in every country said they were prepared for peace with Israel based on its return to the 1967 borders, but, among those who said so, majorities also said they did "not believe the Israelis will give up the territories (it has occupied) peacefully."

On the other hand, pluralities in both Saudi Arabia (42 percent) and Jordan (36 percent) said that "Arabs should continue to fight Israel" even if it returned to its 1967 borders.

Weighted by national population, the survey found that 61 percent of Arabs would accept such an agreement. "That is much more than I had expected," noted Telhami. Twenty-nine percent said Arabs should keep fighting.

If Bush displaced Sharon as the most disliked leader in 2006, the Iranian-backed leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has displaced French President Jacques Chirac as the most admired, according to survey.

Asked to volunteer their favorite for that category, the weighted aggregate of 14 percent named Nasrallah; eight percent, Chirac; four percent, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and three percent, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. "These are people who are seen to have stood up to the U.S.," Telhami said, adding, "Not a single one is a Sunni Arab."

As in the past several years, large majorities of Arabs attribute less benign objectives to U.S. policy in the region, including "controlling oil" (75 percent, "protecting Israel"; 69 percent "weakening the Muslim World"; and 68 percent, "the desire to dominate the region." Only nine percent of the weighted aggregates they believed one of Washington's main objectives was promoting democracy.

Majorities, ranging from 51 percent in Lebanon to 68 percent in Jordan and 77 percent in Morocco, believe Iran has the right to pursue its nuclear program

"Even in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose governments are really frightened about Iranian power, their publics do not define Iran as the major threat," noted Telhami, who added that tended to confirm that Arab leaders and their citizenries do not see key issues through the same prism.

(Inter Press Service)


Comments (18)

Innocent_Criminal said:

the irony of this poll should not be missed by anyone. first, to call Saudi Arabia moderate is a contradiction if you ever heard one. second it only goes to show that as far as we are (syrians) far from being democratic. the syrian government represents its people’s views better than other less “oppressive” arab governments do.

February 9th, 2007, 11:03 pm


Gibran said:

This so-called poll is meaningless. Reason is simple. A proper poll of Arab public opinion about this issue would ask the following questions: 1) Would you agree to a Khomeini style Government in the Arab world or part of it. The result would be (rest assured) 95% against. 2) Do Syrians (or Arabs in General) approve of a startegic alliance with Iran at the expense of its relation with the other Arabs? Then I’ll leave that to you to explore as a proper academic assignment for your next article.

Typical Landis presentation of sensationalism as distorted objectivity!

February 9th, 2007, 11:18 pm


Alex said:


Do you think that opinion polls from the early Eighties that measured American people’s attitudes towards the old soviet union included questions like the ones you suggested?

“Would you allow the communists to rule in Washington”?

Then 95% would say no… as you correctly predicted.

February 9th, 2007, 11:30 pm


Gibran said:

Of course Alex, you could ask similar question to the Americans? It would be like: Would you like to have a communist government in the US? and you are right. The result is as you and I said. This is the real issue the Arabs are facing with Iran. It is not a popularity contest among various personalities. The presumed poll was taken in December. Lot of things happened since then. I wonder how popular the mentioned figures would be at the moment!
While at it, Could you answer the second question please?

February 9th, 2007, 11:31 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

I agree that the main perceived enemy of the Arab populace is not Iran. But it is neither the U.S. nor even Israel. It is my opinion that no one has done more harm to this group of 300 million people than their own respective leaders. I wish this poll asked them to rank the performance of their own governments. Bush, Sharon or Olmert will not wish us any good. That is expected and understandable. Their job is to look after their own people and not us. The failures of our region is not their fault. Our problems can only be attributed to the atrocious leaders that rule each and every country of the people who cared to answer to this poll.

From Morocco to Saudi Arabia one is hard pressed to find a single leader that has worked tirelessly to improve the standard of living of his people.

Instead, once they reach power, they enrich themselves and their associates. They are never accountable. They rule for life, and when they die they hand the rein to their sons/brothers.

How can a region with such leaders ever prosper and improve?

Stop blaming Bush and Sharon. We have been in this state of precipitous decline way before Bush was in office. We are likely to stay on this course long after he is gone.

Our leaders will of course start to blame the next U.S. President, Israeli Prime Minister or Iranian zealot. This will be the same diversion tactics that have been put to use for generations now.

Many smart and educated people on this forum and others seem to fall for this trap. One wishes that their collective intellect and energy be diverted to exposing the real culprits who have been responsible for the demise of our people.

February 9th, 2007, 11:33 pm


Alex said:


Since I have been conducting behavioral science research for over 10 years, I hope you accept my opinion of both questions you posed.

When you ask research questions, you can not word them in a way that leads the respondees to answer the way you hope they will… like your first question which has an obviously undesirable outcome (khomeini style rule)… you are guarantying a majority will answer the way you hope they would. This leads to very little variance (standard deviation) in teh data, and that makes it a useless question.

Your second question has another issue: it measures many other peripheral variables … if you load your questionnaire’s data into a “factor Analysis statistical routine, you will probably find out that the question measures many variables (or factors) … I can see for example how many of those questioned will think that you are asking them to rate Syria’s approach to Lebanon, relations with the US, position on the Iraq war ..etc, in comparison to that of other “moderate Arabs” like Saudi Arabia… because when you ask them “chose Syria or the Arabs” … chosing the Arabs’s side means among other things accepting their terms in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and even accepting Saudi advice to just do what the Americans ask you to do.

basically, a loaded question… usually, when you pose a question that includes comparisons, you need to be very careful how to read the results.

February 9th, 2007, 11:58 pm


Gibran said:

Actually, I have a problem in your own wording of your responses. Now this is not another case of lack of comprehension on your part which I pointed out to you previously.

Example, you say “I hope you accept my opinion … etc”
Let’s analyze what you said. People do not ask others to accept their opinions. They have the right to express their opinions. It will be the proper way to induce the other party to really consider your opinion and not feel pressured to accept it as you request especially when you couple that with a claim to some ‘expertise’ in some related field.
The way you express yourself will cause others to dismiss your opinion as mere propaganda, especially when one knows where you stand ideologically (as a Baathist propagandist most likely paid by the regime to do what you do on each and every blog on the net).
So, the issues are as I described and the proof is very simple. There was a meeting of Muslim scholars from all over the Muslim world in Qatar last month to discuss this same issue in order to find a solution. Iran was among the participants.
The end of the story is: Iran must prove in words and in deeds to the Arabs that it is not seeking to export its rejected ideology to the Arab world.
There is nothing loaded in my second question. In 1985, I was in Damascus on a business trip. I met an Alawi person, very close to the government, at his house. I asked him the following question: What will Syria’s position be if the Iranians succeed in crossing the Iraqi borders. His answer was unequivocal: we will militarily support the Iraqis.
So why do you not want to answer the second question?

February 10th, 2007, 12:24 am


SSNP-SCP said:

bulls eye Gibi,
The way you express yourself will cause others to dismiss your opinion as mere propaganda, especially when one knows where you stand ideologically (as an anti-Syrian pro-west propagandist most likely paid by the regime to do what you do on each and every blog on the net).
could the description fit you any better? and the credit is all yours.

February 10th, 2007, 12:48 am


Alex said:

Dear Gibran,

I realize I sounded like I am forcing my “expert” opinion on you, so forgive me. I am finished work for today and I am leaving for dinner (now) so I was subconsciously trying to conclude the conversation, since I can not continue it tonight.

Jihad El-khazen is used to being accused of being paid by the Syrian regime. His answer is “they can not afford me”.

Same here .. not because I am exceptionally rich, but because they probably have practically zero budget for the most basic of public relations tasks.

Not to mention that my English is terrible. I should pay them to hire me.

If you can get the February copy of Sami Moubayed’s new English monthly FW: (Forward) .. in it I wrote about Syrian P.R. and I dedicated a whole page to criticizing “them”… I can criticize the other side too, believe it or not.
As for your conclusions about this poll … it is up to you to make conclusion based on a scientific poll conducted by Zogby (who proved they had the most successful polls in US Elections many times), or through a meeting with one person in Damascus in 1985.

Or even through talking to the many friends you have …or through reading Saudi and Hariri owned newspapers … all are biased for obvious reasons.

OK, I’m going to eat now. Will be back after dinner.

February 10th, 2007, 12:49 am


majedkhaldoun said:

how can anyone take a poll in any country,where there is no freedom or democracy,and consider it accurate?

February 10th, 2007, 5:19 am


Alex said:


I know in Dubai, Cairo, Beirut … etc, you can freely answer “Iran is my number 1 threat, or the US is my number 1 threat”

Of course if they asked them “how would you rate your own president’s performance” then … yup.

February 10th, 2007, 5:43 am


qunfuz said:

sorry to repost the same, but it’s still more relevant here than at the end of the previous comments system. The latest posting on my blog is called In Defence of Iran.

February 10th, 2007, 6:45 am


MSK said:

Dear Alex,

I’ve tried to find the poll online but somehow I couldn’t.

Could you provide the link? The article cited is somewhat tendentious and quite frankly I don’t trust its analysis.

One thing right now: The poll was from Nov/Dec & a lot of things have happened since then, particularly regarding public Arab opinion towards Iran.



February 10th, 2007, 11:41 am


t_desco said:

Target Iran: US able to strike in the spring

Despite denials, Pentagon plans for possible attack on nuclear sites are well advanced

Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Saturday February 10, 2007

US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

But Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst, shared the sources’ assessment that Pentagon planning was well under way. “Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place.”

In another sign that preparations are under way, Mr Bush has ordered oil reserves to be stockpiled. …

Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former air force officer who has carried out war games with Iran as the target, supported the view that planning for an air strike was under way: “Gates said there is no planning for war. We know this is not true. He possibly meant there is no plan for an immediate strike. It was sloppy wording.

“All the moves being made over the last few weeks are consistent with what you would do if you were going to do an air strike. We have to throw away the notion the US could not do it because it is too tied up in Iraq. It is an air operation.”
The Guardian

February 10th, 2007, 12:53 pm


Ammad said:

I think the oil rich countries especially that of the gulf consider iran as their biggest threat, Jordan also consider iran as a threat, but when it comes to syria, the arab world is divided, i.e you cannot find out about egypt position against syria, qatar is the only gulf country which has good ties with syria,recently turkey-syria relation began to improve after iraq war but the nations are starting to be disturbed about syria evil actions in middle east, they realized that syria is looking for terror and troubles.

February 10th, 2007, 1:50 pm


Mo said:


I share a lot of views with you regarding the mil. buildup against Iran, but I don’t personally think that any war could break up without direct justifiable reasons. My views on the possible scenarios are as follows:

1. Israel starting it, causing the US to follow up, thus having to deal with a regional outbreak of an unwanted war.

2. wide-scale sabotage operations: no air strikes, no traceable enemy.. Perhaps prompting Iran to retaliate directly on US forces

3. An attack in Iraq causing huge US losses (something similar to the attack on the US in Beirut 83)

4. Propaganda war, it’s just about pressuring the Iranians to give away more concessions. I think this is the most “reasonable” explanation of the current situation. Remember NK? Pakistan & India? So what, a few NB’s wouldn’t do so much harm after all. There was a recent Israeli study that downplayed the idea Iran could possibly use nukes against Israel. Such action could lead to an apocalyptic retaliation.. Doesn’t make so much sense..
I think it’s just a moment in history where the “tectonics” of power is causing some earthquakes here and there, but not a Biblical-scale catastrophe!

Thanks anyway for this and all past articles..

February 10th, 2007, 2:03 pm


Antoun said:

I think people have gravely underestimated the sense of “Arab brotherhood” still felt among the Arab people.

The era of pan-Arab nationalism led by Egypt in the 60s and 70s was extremely popular, and hasn’t really shrugged off on the people despite a surge in “Islamism” as a replacement ideology.

Palestine is still at the core of the problems for the Arab people. This issue in addition to appalling domestic rights, and a transparent alliance with the US, has left the Arab people incredibly disenchanted with their leaders. I wouldn’t doubt that for a second.

Saudi Arabia has the potential and the income to develop their nation into the most advanced nation in the Middle East. Instead it decides to spoil its riches on a selfish elitist group of families, while leaving the majority of their people dwindling in shanty towns, like most of the Arab world.

I’m aware that most people in the West perceive Arabs as living a backward life, and they’re not wrong, but don’t be fooled into believing that the Arab people prefer to live such a life. It’s imposed upon them forcefully.

The Arab people blame their leaders, but equally blame the US and Israel for empowering these leaders to keep the Arabs quiet.

Yes, Iran has intentions, we all know that. They’re not friendly to the Arabs, they want to dominate the region like the Americans and Israelis. Iran’s quarrels with the Middle East are a matter of deep faith as well as traditional Persian antagonism with the Middle East. However, at current it’s Iran and Syria who are most incline with the public opinions of the Arab world. Iran and Syria support the resistance against Israel, are refusing to bow to American pressure, and unlike their own puppet Arab leaders, the Iranian and Syrian leadership are taking a stand.

This is merely an indication into what the Arab people of the “moderate” states would prefer to see from their own leaders.

Instead of taking orders from Washington, how about making our own, like Damascus and Tehran do.

Israel, backed by the US, is the immediate and most dangerous threat to the Arab world. Actually, what am I talking about a threat? They’ve already taken down one Arab state, they’re on Arab soil, and they are showing no signs of abating their aggression against them. Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq are the cause of Israel and the US, not Iran. The Arab people know that.
It is a shame on the Arab leaders that we have to turn to Tehran for assistance to defend ourselves.

This way of thought, I believe, is paralleled among most of those Arabs polled.

February 10th, 2007, 3:23 pm


Alex said:


That’s correct. Few things have changed since Dec. But they go in two ways, I believe:

1) More Sunni Arabs started to worry about Iran and the Shiites after Sadam was hanged on el-Eid specifically. This was perceived by some as being a blunt challenge from Shiites to Sunnis.

Also, some who actualy trust their leaders also can be affected by recent statements liek the ones from King Abdullah of KSA about how Shiites will not succeed in converting Sunnis and his warning to IRan to stay away form supporting Arab causes…etc

2) Recently, Condy Rice established that alliance of the moderate Arab states. Most people in those countries do not like the US and hate the fact their dictators are more and more “taking orders” from the U.S. … this probably created a public opinion movement in the opposite direction to the one in point 1 above.

So the net effect ofthe changes after this poll is the difference between those who listent to their leaders, and those who do not trust their leaders or their US allies… what do you think that adds up to?

February 10th, 2007, 4:04 pm


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