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Opinion Briefing: Libyans Eye New Relations With the West

Opinion Briefing: Libyans Eye New Relations With the West

by Jay Loschky

This article is part of a series of U.S. Foreign Policy Opinion Briefings aimed at helping to inform U.S. leaders on pressing foreign policy issues.

Quick Summary: As Libya faces enormous challenges in establishing security and laying the groundwork for a stable and prosperous state, Gallup surveys show Libyans are reaching out to the West for increased partnership. The U.S. in particular has an excellent opportunity to build a mutually beneficial, productive relationship with Libya for the first time in decades and could potentially find itself with a new, democratic ally in North Africa. A majority of Libyans (54%) surveyed in March and April 2012 approve of the leadership of the U.S. -- among the highest approval Gallup has ever recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of Israel.

Issue at Hand: Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) handed over power to a new 200-member elected assembly last week, marking a major milestone in the country's transition to democracy. The handover of authority from the NTC, which has governed Libya since the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime nearly a year ago, marks the first peaceful transition of power in modern Libyan history.

Western support for Libyan institutions at this stage is integral for Libya's and the region's stability and is now a key issue among Western security interests. Instability in Libya has already had ripple effects in the region, as many analysts believe that Libya's revolution may have contributed to Mali's crisis after pro-Gadhafi Tuaregs returned and allied with Islamists to dislodge the Malian government from half of the country. The West and the U.S. have an interest not only in ensuring Libya's stability, but also in keeping its energy on the international market and promoting Libyan democracy as an example in the region.

The Obama Administration's Stance: Though political opponents initially criticized President Barack Obama about the high costs of military intervention in Libya, criticism subsided after efforts proved successful and costs compared favorably with recent military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since Moammar Gadhafi's downfall, the U.S. government has provided $170 million in transitional aid to Libya to help confront humanitarian and security challenges. Still, the amount of foreign assistance provided to Libya is low compared with the $2.9 billion the U.S. gave Pakistan in 2010 to support its fledgling civilian government, and the $2.8 billion and $1.7 billion Washington sent that year to Israel and Egypt, other traditional regional allies.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have begun to provide support for Libya's transition on a small scale. However, U.S. officials have largely not made public what specific actions the government plans to take to further aid Libyan security.

Record-High Support for U.S. Leadership in MENA Region: U.S. support for the Libyan revolution may have generated an almost unprecedented level of goodwill toward the U.S. In 2012, 54% of Libyans approve of U.S. leadership -- among the highest approval Gallup has ever recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of Israel.

Libyans also approve of the leadership of the United Kingdom, which also supported the intervention in Libya. They are less enamored with Germany's leaders, who did not support the action. Libyans express little approval of the leadership of Russia and China, countries that were perceived by many as opposing rebel groups and NATO intervention.

Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of ...

Libyans are far more likely than their Arab neighbors to have supported NATO's military involvement in their nation's conflict, with 75% saying they favored intervention, compared with 33% in Tunisia, 14% in Algeria, and 13% in Egypt who say the same. Unlike in Libya, revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt succeeded in overthrowing regimes without resorting to armed rebellion and foreign military support. Western military intervention in Libya's revolution likely raised suspicions of ulterior motives and may have reminded neighboring Arabs of prior, unpopular Western military campaigns in the region.

Overall, did you favor or oppose NATO's military intervention in Libya in 2011?

Al-Qaeda, Former Regime Members a Major Threat: Despite Libyans' high levels of support for NATO's intervention and general approval of U.S., U.K., and EU leadership, many Libyans still consider Western military forces a potential threat to their country, with 48% saying they pose a major threat. However, Libyans are more worried about al-Qaeda and Islamic militant groups, which 62% consider major security threats, and members of Gaddafi's former regime, whom 61% consider to be a major threat.

Please indicate whether the following groups pose a major threat, minor threat, or no threat to the future of Libya.

Libyans Favor Western Support: Libyans broadly support several forms of potential assistance from the West, particularly military support. More than three in four Libyans (77%) favor Western societies sending military equipment to Libyan armed forces, while 18% do not. More than two in three Libyans (68%) also support the West sending military trainers to their country. That support for Western "boots on the ground" exists even while many Libyans consider Western forces a potential threat underscores both the poor condition of Libyan security forces and the immediate need for improved security.

Do you favor or oppose Western societies sending each of the following to Libya?

More than three in four Libyans (77%) also support the West sending governance experts to their country, an important development in a country that will require major institution building for years to come. The majority (61%) also favor economic aid from the West. The only form of assistance that a majority of Libyans do not approve of is aid for political groups (34%). Opposition to Western aid for political groups may signal that while Libyans want the West's help in building a state, they do not want foreign interference in their political process.

Policy Implications: The U.S. and its Western allies face an almost unprecedented opportunity to forge a true partnership with an Arab country that has both a government and population well-disposed toward positive relations. Many Libyans are genuinely appreciative of the support the U.S. and some European countries provided in bringing the Gadhafi regime to an end and want their new government to pursue closer relations with the West.

Libyans perceive many threats to their newfound freedom and largely share the West's concern of Islamic militants. The U.S. and the West now have a window in which to capitalize on Libyan goodwill and help the country to revive its economy, establish security, and emerge as a responsible member of the global community.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults per country, aged 15 and older, conducted in March and April 2012 in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Some areas of Libya were excluded for security reasons. Excluded areas represent approximately 20% of the population. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.3 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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