By Muhammed Qasim – Washington
As US President Barack Obama prepares to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world from Egypt, a new opinion survey in six Arab countries found a genuine opportunity for the US to polish its image which has been much damaged under George W. Bush.
"It is clear that there is an expression of openness and hopefulness and the people are waiting what the administration will be doing," Shibley Telhami, Principal Investigator of the 2009 Arab Public Opinion Poll, told IslamOnline.net.
The survey, released by the prominent research organization Brookings Institution and the independent pollster Zogby International, was conducted in six Arab and Muslim nations.
It found that more than half of those polled in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were hopeful and awaiting a new US policy under the Obama administration.
"Majority of the people have expressed hope in America’s Foreign policy, given by Obama administration and what the President has said and done in the past three months."
Only 14 percent of those polled expressed discouragement.
As for Obama himself, the poll found that some 45 percent of respondents had favorable views of the new president who assumed office in January, compared to 24 percent with negative views.
"More people in the Arab world have positive views of President Obama than negative views," asserts Telhami.
The US president is scheduled to head to Egypt next month to deliver a much-anticipated outreach speech to the Muslim and Arab world.
Obama, who used his inaugural speech to pledge a "new way forward" with Muslims, has promised to improve America’s relations with Arabs and Muslims after it soared under his predecessor.
Bush upset Muslims by linking Islam with violence and terrorism and by invading two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq.
An earlier poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center found that the US image has plummeted globally, with the foreign policy and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars topping a long list of disappointing factors.
Many believe the findings signal the beginning of a new chapter in America’s relations with Arabs and Muslims.
"There is a remarkable change in the general perception in the Arab world from the Bush administration," said Telhami, a senior fellow at Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution.
"The Obama administration is starting off with openness, with a sense of credibility that we have not seen in the recent years by an American President or administration."
Asked what issue would be most central to their assessment of Obama’s policy in the region, 42 percent of those polled cited the withdrawal from Iraq.
Some 26 percent cited the Arab-Israeli conflict while 16 percent referred to his attitudes towards the Arab and Muslim worlds.
James Zogby, founder and senior adviser for Zogby international, notes that for the first time in years many Arabs and Muslims are willing to listen to the US on those issues.
"I suspect that, depending obviously on what’s happening in the few months, we are going back essentially to the pre-9/11 era," he told IOL.
"Remember that the pre-9/11 ear was not a wonderful ear in Arab perception for the US but the Clinton era was comparatively good one," explains Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute.
Telhami is optimistic that the US now realizes its standing in the world and seems determined to pursue a new foreign policy.
"My read of the administration is that the President understands how important these issues are, otherwise he will not have taken the steps that he did.
"I think the administration understands the seriousness of the issues and the policies that will be announced will satisfy the public in the Arab world."