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While support inside the United States for President Barack Hussein Obama has slowly begun to fade since he entered the White House in January, his popularity in Muslim countries was not high to begin with. Now findings of a new survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project indicate that any improvement there has come in baby steps only.
The poll of 24 countries and the residents of the "Palestinian Authority" revealed in July that widespread concern remains over U.S. influence and policy, and that Obama's well-known charisma has had little effect on Muslim populations.
The survey, conducted over a period of weeks that spanned the period before and after Obama's speech in Cairo, did show that his address had a small but significant effect on his popularity rating among PA Arabs. Prior to his speech, only 27% of PA Arab respondents said they believed Obama will consider their interests when making foreign policy; after the address, that number rose to 39%.
His speech also had a marked effect on citizens of Israel, where the U.S. is now seen as less trustworthy.
Fewer than 30 percent of those surveyed in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and the PA expressed a favorable view of the U.S., but even in those countries, a slow thaw might be occurring, as indicated in questions over perceptions on foreign policy. More than 60 percent of the population in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the PA said they believe that Obama "will be fair" in the Middle East.
In Jordan, 30 percent of the populace said they believed Obama was on their side, while only eight percent said the same thing about former President George W. Bush in 2008. Thirty one percent in Jordan believed in Obama's foreign policy, up from seven percent who believed in Bush's foreign policy.
For the first time since the question was asked in the polls, Jordanians are more confident in an American president than in Osama Bin Laden – whom only 28 percent are confident is fighting for their interests. Obama is also more popular than Bin Laden in Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria and Indonesia.
In Egypt, 42 percent also believe in Obama's foreign policy efforts – far more than the 11 percent who said they believed in Bush's last year.
But Obama's popularity has positively soared in Lebanon.
Levantines, who already had a high opinion of the U.S., have increased their approval of America, more so among Lebanese Sunni Muslims than among the country's Christian population. According to the study, 90% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims currently hold a favorable view of the U.S., up from 62% last year. Only 66% of the country's Christians were positive on "Obamamania."
Six of the seven Muslim-majority nations polled said they are worried the U.S. may someday become a military threat to their countries. However, there was movement in Turkey, where 54% of the respondents said they believed the U.S. to be a potential threat, down from 76% a year ago. Forty percent said they still consider the U.S. an enemy – down from 70% last year.
A much larger majority of the public in Pakistan (64%) and the PA (77%), responded that it continues to view the U.S. as an enemy.
In Africa, and southeast Asia, Obamamania has clearly had a positive impact: in Nigeria, America's image has improved drastically since Obama took office, with 61% popularity in July as opposed to 39% last year. The numbers were similar in Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim majority in the world, where Obama spent several years in Jakarta as a child. There, 63% of the population currently views the U.S. in a positive light, as opposed to only 37% last year.
In Western Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, America's image has skyrocketed since he took office.
In particular, far more respondents in France and Germany rated the U.S. with high marks in July – in France, the poll showed 75% favorability over 42% a year ago, and in Germany, 64% favorability over 31% last year.