By Andrew Wander
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: Almost half of Lebanese believe that US President Barack Obama will have a positive impact on the Middle East and have a favorable opinion of him, a poll has found. The IPSOS poll asked residents of six Arab countries what they thought of the new president, who completed his first 100 days in office earlier this month. In Lebanon, pollsters found that just 16 percent of those asked held a negative opinion of Obama, while 41 percent held an unfavorable view of the United States.

The poll’s findings signify that Obama’s conciliatory approach to diplomacy in Middle East may be paying dividends as he seeks to restore America’s image in a region that suffered disproportionately at the sharp end of the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

When asked their opinion of Obama, 43 percent of Lebanese respondents said they had a favorable view of him – 11 percent more than had a favorable opinion of the United States.

The poll shows that the president has maintained a high level of personal popularity since taking office in January, even in countries where the US is not looked kindly upon. In every country polled, Obama enjoyed a higher level of approval than the United States as a whole.

The poll involved 7,000 adults in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

Of those surveyed, 33 percent had a favorable view of the United States, 43 percent had a negative view, 14 percent were neutral and 10 percent said they did not know. In contrast, Obama received favorable ratings averaging 48 percent in the region as a whole. Only one in 10 residents thought Obama would have a negative effect on their country, the poll showed.

Jordan appears to have the most schizophrenic feelings toward the US and its leader, with 58 percent of respondents saying they had a favorable opinion of the president as 56 percent said they had an unfavorable view of his country.


In Saudi Arabia and the UAE more than half the respondents expressed a positive view toward Obama. Kuwait came fourth on the list, with 47 percent saying they have a positive view of Obama. Lebanon’s 43 percent approval rating was 8 percent more than that of Egypt, where just 35 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the president.

IPSOS said that the findings show that Obama "currently enjoys widespread optimism among citizens of that region that he will have a positive effect on their own country, the Middle East, the United States and indeed the world."

The polling outfit said the results indicated that Obama’s popularity in the Middle East was a chance for America to rehabilitate its image in the region. "There is an opportunity for the president to literally ‘bridge the gap’ where his repository of goodwill lifts the goodwill toward America," a synopsis of the poll’s findings said.

Obama has made a concerted effort to reach out to those living in the Middle East since he took office. In his inauguration speech, he told the Muslim world he would seek a "new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." He followed up by giving an early interview to Al-Arabiya television in which he said the region’s conflicts were "interrelated," and he delivered a televised address to the people of Iran to mark the Persian New Year.

The poll was published after the White House announced that Obama would deliver an important speech to the Muslim world in Egypt on June 4 – just three days before Lebanon votes in key parliamentary elections that analysts say will shape US policy toward the country.