Recent Polling on Muslim Views on Al-Qaeda, the US, etc.

Rob at Arabic Media Shack has an informative post on some of the findings of WorldPublicOpinion.org’s most recent polling, which can be found here. Here is the excerpt that he presents:

“Q43-S79. Thinking about the following kinds of attacks on Americans, please tell me if you approve of them, disapprove of them, or have mixed feelings about them?

Attacks on US military troops in Afghanistan
Egypt 2008: 75% Strongly approve, 8 % somewhat approve, and less than 10% disapprove in any form.

On US military troops based in the Persian Gulf States:
Egypt 2008: 70% strongly approve. A total of 12% have mixed feelings or any form of disapproval.

On US military troops based in Iraq:
Egypt 2008: 75% strongly approve. Only 10% with mixed feelings or any form of disapproval.

On US Civilians in the US:
Egypt 2008: 8% approve in any form. 78% strongly disapprove.

In addition, from the Middle East Times:

Less obvious, but probably a logical consequence of wanting the withdrawal of U.S. forces, is the disturbing finding that very significant majorities approve of attacks on U.S. troops based in Iraq, the Gulf, and Afghanistan. Large majorities approve of attacks in Egypt (over 78 percent), the Palestinian territories (87 percent), and Jordan (66 percent). In Turkey and Pakistan views are more divided. However, only minorities in Indonesia and Azerbaijan would endorse such attacks.

US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are technically occupation forces. So I can understand from that logic why, for example, and Iraqi might want to attack US forces because they occupy his or her country. However, why do Egyptians overwhelmingly support attacking US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan? In Iraq, maybe, they follow the logic of resistance an occupier as being legitimate and they see the war as illegal or illegitimate in the first place. But the US, along with a number of other countries, is also an invading force in Afghanistan, a campaign which enjoys much broader international support than does the Iraq one. Might this mean that Egyptians support the Taliban? Probably not, but then why is there such support for actively attacking US forces in Afghanistan? Furthermore, why the overwhelming support for attacking US forces in the Persian Gulf States. How do US forces in the Persian Gulf (or Afghanistan for that matter) effect Egyptians? I don’t think they really do, but I would wager that this is a result more of the general feelings expressed in other parts of the survey, such as the following as reported by the Middle East Times:

The third finding of the polls, which will come as little surprise to Americans familiar with the Middle East and the Islamic world, is the intense suspicion of U.S. goals in the region. Large majorities ranging from 62 percent in Indonesia to 87 percent in Egypt say they believe that the United States seeks “to weaken and divide the Islamic world.”

And what does this mean for President Obama? According to the Middle East Times:

So Obama’s new approach to the region faces an audience that is suspicious of the United States but likes the idea of democracy and opposes attacks on civilians. That’s not a hopeless place from which to start, even if such views have been obvious to most observers all along.

True, but as Marc Lynch often talks about, it is a much more complicated than that.

8 Responses to Recent Polling on Muslim Views on Al-Qaeda, the US, etc.

  1. Rob says:

    Put yourself in local Egyptian Muslim shoes. The average guy doesn’t read the New York Times Book Review or engage in deep discussions about international law or things like that.

    The least sophisticated, most unworldy Muslim, however, can identity and understand, and certainly sympathize with the principle of Muslim countries being occupied by non-Muslim invaders, and that Muslims have, at least a right to go and help their neighors under seige.

    What does he see? He see non-Muslim forces occupying Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam. He also sees the non-Muslim US army invading and occupying (in his mind) two other Mulsim countries for no reason (Iraq and Afghanistan). End of discussion. And from there you get polls which show almost unaninmous support for attacks in those countries.

    You’ve got the language skills- I suggest asking a couple of your working class friends their opinions on this and seeing what they have to say. They’ll be happy to explain to you. It would be an interesting blog post.

    • ibnyaaqub says:

      Absolutely, and that is exactly the point. It is important for US policy-makers to understand that some people in the region only see “non-Muslim forces occupying Muslim land” and that that in of itself is a problem for a lot of people, regardless of whether or not it is legal under international law, makes sense through the “lens of globalization,” or is just plain old good IR theory. So since the US is not going to stop fighting a war in Afghanistan, and is not going to pull troops out of the Persian Gulf, what are the implications of this for strategic communications and public diplomacy? How does the US convince the “Egyptian street” that it is not seeking to “divide Islam and Muslims?”

  2. Rob says:

    not invade foreign countries?

  3. Rob says:

    you ask some good questions at the end of your comments. alot of people would say that there strategic communications and public diplomacy are worthless in this situation. If you’re the US government, how else can you package the fact that you’re occupying two Muslim countries? Give more people scholarships? Train more diplomats to speak in Arabic?

  4. ibnyaaqub says:

    Strategic communications and public diplomacy are absolutely limited in these situations. I don’t think they are the answers to the US’s problems, but they can play an important role. You can give more people scholarships, etc, and that will help–but only to an extent. One cannot get around the situation on the ground. I think Americans, as some policy-makers have, just need to get over the fact that everyone is not always going to be happy with what the US is doing. The bottom line is that policies that the US follows for its national interest are not always going to be what is best for people in other countries. So we should try to “package” it the best we can. After that, I am sorry to say, it is a dog eat dog world. The US should try to do the best it can and be held accountable for its mistakes. It’s as simple as that.

  5. Ahmad says:

    I think there’s something that needs a little bit of clarification. When the Egyptian layman supports attacks on US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, he thinks that it is a justified attack because he sees them as invaders or occupiers that seek to gain control and take from these countries resources!

    However, I don’t think that they mean to say that those attacks come from the Egyptians, but they mean that it comes from Iraqi/Afghani people (resistance). They just see it’s just fair to do so.

  6. ibnyaaqub says:

    Hey Ahmad,
    Thanks for posting. I think you are right. Some Egyptians support Iraqis and Afghans rights to resist against occupiers. But this begs an interesting question. Iraqis are by far not the only ones fighting American forces–and more importantly–killing Iraqis in Iraq. Same goes for Afghanistan to an extent. So how does that play into the idea of resisting invaders or occupiers in a country?

  7. Lord Cromer says:

    Rob said, “He see non-Muslim forces occupying Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam.”

    Eh? What forces?

    On Egyptians, the key question is not whether they support attacks on occupying forces (of course! that’s a no-brainer). It’s whether they support attacking Americans and American institutions in Egypt to force the removal of those occupying forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. This, then, is the most interesting question:

    “Q45-S81. Thinking about the following kinds of attacks on Americans, please tell me if you approve of them, disapprove of them, or have mixed feelings about them? Attacks on US civilians working for US companies in Islamic countries”

    78% of Egyptians disapprove of this, which is up 2% from 2006. Only 7% approve (and they all live in Imbaba–jk!), down 2% points from 2006. While worrisome, it does mean that AQ’s primary tactic is losing favor in Egypt. I’d like to hear your and Rob’s thoughts as to why. I think it’s similar to what happened to the GIA in Algeria in the 90s.

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