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article imageOp-Ed: Poll examines American attitudes on Middle East issues

By Ken Hanly     Oct 11, 2012 in World
Washington - While the attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya shocked many Americans, most recognize the violence as perpetrated by extremists, as shown by a new poll.
A poll on American attitudes towards Islam and Arabs was released during a recent event at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C. The poll was conducted by the University of Maryland.
The poll found that 61% of Americans were not convinced that the U.S. should provide aid to Egypt to help it through the transition to democracy. Even more thought it was unwise to give large amounts of aid to Egypt, when Americans were facing difficult economic times at home.
Barack Obama promised Egypt $1 billion in aid earlier this year to provide Egypt with debt relief. However, $450 million is being blocked in Congress. Given the attitudes expressed in this poll, the money is not likely to be unblocked soon.
Willam Galston, a fellow at the Brookings Institute and also a former policy adviser to Bill Clinton, said: “These findings show that Americans are more concerned about nation-building at home rather than abroad for now.”
Although the majority of Americans were in favor of reducing aid to Egypt most were opposed to stopping aid altogether.
The poll revealed a partisan division in attitudes concerning aid to Egypt. 44% of Republicans wanted aid to Egypt decreased and 41% wanted aid to stop altogether. Democrats were much less negative with only 15% wanting to stop aid altogether.
On Israeli-Iranian relations, a majority of Americans thought that the U.S should remain neutral on the issue of an Israeli attack on Iran. Only 3% of Democrats wanted to urge Israel to attack Iran. However, Republicans were almost evenly split between encouraging or discouraging an attack by Israel.
Even though most Americans view recent violent demonstrations against the U.S. as the work of a minority of extremists, the events may have influenced attitudes. A large majority of 75% of Americans view Libya unfavorably. A smaller 54% view Egypt unfavorably. The negative feelings are mutual. Hisham Helhem of Al Arabiya News said: “There is still a widely negative view of the U.S in .the Middle East. The majority of the population continues to see the U.S. as the omnipresent power in the region." The people remember that the U.S. propped up and supported repressive regimes for years in the region.
Although a majority of Americans favored direct involvement of the U.S. in Syria, there was little support for arming the rebels and almost no support for sending troops. There was, however, majority support for increased sanctions and even a no-fly zone over Syria.
No doubt these figures may encourage Obama and Romney to take a stronger stand on Syria. However, a no-fly zone might be difficult to create, since a motion to create the zone to protect civilians is not likely to pass through the UN security council. Russia or China would undoubtedly veto any such motion.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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