By Jim Lobe
"WASHINGTON, Apr 14 (IPS) - Despite renewed U.S. efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement this year, popular views of the United States in the Arab world have actually worsened since 2006, according to a major new survey of public opinion in six Arab states.
Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of more than 4,000 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said they held a "very unfavourable" attitude of the United States, up from 57 percent in late 2006, while 19 percent more said their views were "somewhat unfavourable" -- roughly comparable to the results of 17 months ago.
At the same time, support for Iran and its nuclear programme appears to have risen over the same period, according to the new survey, the sixth in a series designed by University of Maryland Prof. Shibley Telhami and carried out by Zogby International since 2002.
The poll found that two-thirds of the Arab public (67 percent) believes Tehran has the right to pursue its nuclear programme and that international pressure to freeze it should cease. That compares to 61 percent who took the same position in 2006.
Remarkably, nearly three out of four Saudi respondents said that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, it would have "positive" influence on the region, while 51 percent of UAE respondents agreed. Pluralities in Morocco and Egypt took the same position, while pluralities of roughly one-third in Lebanon and Jordan said Tehran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon it would make no difference.
The new survey also found that fears regarding both U.S. and Israeli designs in the region have also increased over the past 17 months, despite the length of time that has passed since the summer 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war which inflamed anti-Israeli and anti-western opinion throughout the region.
Asked to name two countries that, in their view, posed the "biggest threat" to them, a whopping 95 percent and 88 percent of respondents named Israel and the U.S., respectively. That compared to 85 percent and 72 percent, respectively, in late 2006.
By comparison, the sense of threat posed by Iran appears to have diminished over the same period. While 11 percent of Arab respondents named Iran as one of the two greatest threats in late 2006, only seven percent did so in the most recent survey.
The survey, which was conducted in all six countries last month, is certain to be greeted with considerable dismay here in the U.S. capital .....
But Telhami's "Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll" is highly regarded among Arabist scholars and public opinion specialists here who note that its consistency of methodology and questions over an unusually long period of time has given it considerable credibility.....
The survey found a sharp rise in the percentage of respondents, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who identified the Palestinian cause as among their three most important public issues. Eighty-six percent of all respondents named Palestine in that context, up from 77 percent in 2006 and 69 percent in 2005.....
Asked to identify which foreign leader they admired the most, respondents generally volunteered those most outspokenly defiant of Israel and the U.S. The most popular was Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who was named by 26 percent of respondents, up from 14 percent 17 months ago. Second-ranked was Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad at 16 percent, up from just two percent in 2006.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came up third with 10 percent of respondents, up from four percent in 2006......"