WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama addresses the Muslim world from Egypt's capital Thursday, a March 2009 Gallup Poll shows that current approval of U.S. leadership among Egyptians is up to 25% from 6% in May 2008 -- revealing a dramatic improvement and a long way to go.
Current approval of U.S. leadership is roughly twice as high as it was in 2005 and 2007 (11% and 13%, respectively) when George W. Bush was president. While a slight majority of Egyptians remain disapproving of U.S. leadership, the percentage is down significantly from ratings of the previous U.S. administration -- from 74% in 2008 to 52% in 2009.
It is also important to note that, like other Arab populations surveyed recently, a significant minority of Egyptians (23%) say they do not know or refused to answer, suggesting that the views of some respondents might still be shaped by future actions the United States takes in the region.
The positive turn in approval among Egyptians likely reflects the change in U.S. administration. In addition to the fact that President George W. Bush, whose policies in Iraq and elsewhere caused substantial controversy in the Arab world, is no longer president, the change in Egyptians' views may also reflect Obama's overture to the Muslim world, which many in the region see as conciliatory. Reaffirming his inaugural promise to forge a partnership with the Muslim world "based on mutual interest and mutual respect," Obama told viewers in an interview with Al Arabiya television earlier this year that the United States needs to "start by listening" rather than dictating. Events such as the president's visit to Turkey earlier this spring, during which he stressed America is not at "war with Islam," can help accentuate the United States' renewed commitment to better relations.
In 2008, Gallup asked Egyptians how significant specific actions would be in improving their opinions of the United States. Half of respondents said the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility camp in Cuba would very significantly improve opinions, a process Obama set in motion his first week in office. In late February, Obama also introduced a timeline for the expedited withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, an action 64% of Egyptians said would very significantly improve their opinions of the U.S.
The process of improving Egyptians' opinions of U.S. leadership is not a simple task and it will take time. As half of Egyptians also told Gallup in 2008 that they pay a "great deal of attention to news about" the Palestinian Territories, America's role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be an important part of how Egyptians' view U.S. leadership. Still, the new U.S. administration appears to be making headway in improving America's image among Egyptians.
Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director and Senior Analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, is also a member of the White House's Advsory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults each year, aged 15 and older, conducted September 2005, July 2007, May 2008, and March 2009 in Egypt. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.