By Damla Karagoz, Fall 2012
On Monday October 8, 2012, The Brookings Institution held a panel titled “U.S. Public Opinion Toward Arabs and Islam: How “The Video Incident” May Affect U.S.-Muslim Relations.” The panelists discussed the outcomes of a recent poll surveying “Americans about the Middle East.” The poll showed that Americans are well informed on many issues on the Middle East and have an overall moderate stance. Most Americans seem to believe that the recent violent attacks against the American embassies in Egypt and Libya are the work of extremist minorities but most are also not satisfied with the overall reaction of the Egyptian and Libyan government.
When looking at Syria, there is high public support for increasing sanctions on Syria and imposing an international no-fly zone but at the same time Americans overwhelmingly oppose military action or arming the opposition. When looking at favorability, 39% believe Egypt is a favorable country, while less than 20% believe the same for Libya. These low rates are a result of the latest wave of uprisings against U.S. embassies. In comparison, Turkey’s favorability is 48% which is less than the 68% it was in April 2011. It is interesting that positive public opinion of Turkey is decreasing even though there have been no attacks. On the other hand, it is important to note, according to findings from Transatlantic Trends, only 34% of Turks find the U.S. favorable.
The recent poll also showed an acute partisan divide among U.S. public opinion. 50% of Democrats believe that the U.S. should continue to provide aid to Egypt because it helps an emerging democracy while only 22% of Republicans support this. When looking at aid providing stability and influence, 30% of Republicans believed it was convincing that the U.S. should continue to provide aid because it helps provide stability and is a continuing way for the U.S. to influence events while 54% of Democrats agreed. Additionally, 87% of Republicans believe that given the economic conditions the United States is going through, it is unwise to give large amounts of aid to Egypt, while 73% of Democrats believe this. Overall we see there is support for decreasing aid in Egypt, but not for stopping it altogether.
When looking at what the United States should be doing, the results displayed a desire for a stronger force in Syria than the Obama administration has been doing. Interestingly enough, Mitt Romney delivered his foreign policy speech on October 8 and said the U.S. should be more assertive on the world stage and accused President Obama of passivity. As the Arab world continues to transition toward democracy, the U.S. needs to hold nations accountable for their actions. There is an ongoing battle, in specifically Libya and Syria, but also other Middle Eastern countries but the results have not yet been decided. The U.S. cannot panic and back down now according to panelist Shibley Telhami. Hisham Melhem, from Al Arabiya News Channel stated “as countries in the Arab world continue to transition toward democracy, the U.S. needs to engage them.” Despite partisan differences, generally it is evident from public opinion polls and the statements by the panelists that for progress, the United States needs to take a stronger stance on the Middle East.