- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2010

The people in Muslim countries are losing confidence in President Obama’s leadership since he gave a major outreach speech in Cairo last year, according to a worldwide poll released Thursday.

The survey by the Global Attitudes Project, a project of the Pew Research Forum, showed that Mr. Obama’s favorability ratings in Muslim countries dropped significantly from 2009 to 2010, as has support for his foreign-policy actions in the Middle East and South Asia.

For example, just 8 percent of Pakistanis think the U.S. president will “do the right thing” when dealing with international affairs, dropping five percentage points since 2009.

While his rankings were higher in other Muslim nations, they were still low and had declined in the past year. Only 33 percent of Egyptians, 26 percent of Jordanians and 23 percent of Turks have confidence in the president’s leadership. Opinions of Mr. Obama are higher in Lebanon, with 43 percent of that country’s residents expressing confidence in the U.S. leader, though a majority (56 percent) still have “little or no confidence” in him.

Mr. Obama’s ratings were highest in Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood. A healthy majority of Indonesians - 66 percent - have confidence in his leadership, though that number is still down from 71 percent last year.

Opinions of the president are also negative toward his dealings with specific policy areas. The survey shows strong disapproval of Mr. Obama’s performance on bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. For example, 90 percent of Lebanese and 88 percent of Egyptians disapprove of the way he has dealt with the conflict.

Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society, said the results were unsurprising and called the Israeli-Palestinian issue the “big elephant in the room.”

He said the president has done little to improve relations between the two parties, while supporting Israeli military actions, which the Muslim world sees as terrorist assaults on civilians. Instead, the president has focused entirely on domestic issues, including health care, the economy and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The president’s popularity has decreased in the Muslim world, both abroad and at home, because he hasn’t focused on any of the issues he addressed,” Mr. Bray said. “I feel that one of the reasons he has not been able to do that, not because of a lack of desire, but rather the current status domestically has shifted his priorities.”

Mr. Bray also criticized Mr. Obama for not continuing his campaign’s Muslim outreach and not offering enough criticism of “Islamophobia” and profiling of Muslims at airport security.

“We feel he has not been as engaged in issues that are important to the Muslim community that we hoped he would be. There has been no civil rights meetings with the Muslim leadership. Other communities have been able to meet with the Obama administration, and that type of engagement has yet to happen.”

But, Mr. Bray cautioned, “people had unrealistic expectations of this president, both here and abroad.”

The White House defended its foreign-policy effectiveness and pointed to Mr. Obama’s higher numbers elsewhere, but did not specifically address the tumble in Mr. Obama’s ratings in the Muslim world.

“The president has worked aggressively to engage our allies around the world and has shown concrete results in terms of assistance in the war in Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation and applying pressure to Iran on their nuclear ambition,” deputy press secretary Bill Burton said. “This same poll shows our numbers holding in Europe and going up double digits in Russia. We are also up dramatically in Latin America, China, Korea and Japan, compared with the previous administration.”

The survey was released one year after Mr. Obama gave a widely praised speech at Cairo University, in which he said he wanted a “new beginning” between the U.S. and Muslim countries. In his speech, he spoke of a relationship “based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth.”

His 2008 presidential campaign was based in significant part on his opposition to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and he more generally painted himself as a different sort of leader from Mr. Bush, widely derided outside the U.S. as a renegade cowboy.

Ali Khan, national director of the American Muslim Center, said he thinks these foreign ratings even have an effect on American Muslims.

“It’s impacting a lot of Muslims,” he said. “And when they are talking about it, they are talking about it with their relatives overseas.”

Despite the drop in favorability ratings for Mr. Obama in Muslim countries, the religion’s American adherents are happy with the way the president has handled domestic issues, Mr. Khan said.

“Overall, the Muslim community loves Barack Obama,” he said. “We’re very happy. We know he has handled a rough situation, and he is doing the best he can. We are certainly much happier than we were under the Bush administration. We’re are much more peaceful.”

Mr. Khan, however, thinks approval of Mr. Obama will continue to decrease.

“It’s called ‘show me,’ ” he said. “His speech and words are not sufficient. Actions are what determines whether or not this person is succeeding.”

While Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech promised change, the survey also shows it had a negative impact on Israelis’ attitude toward the U.S. Before the speech, 76 percent of Israelis viewed the U.S. in a positive light, but that percentage dropped to 63 percent after the speech.

The U.S. leader is still popular among countries in Western Europe, including Germany, where nine in 10 have confidence that Mr. Obama will do the right thing. Britain and Spain also gave him high marks.

However, his numbers were not so high in Latin America, especially Mexico, where people expressed concern over an immigration law in Arizona widely detested there, despite Mr. Obama’s opposition to it. For example, 52 percent of Mexicans who were interviewed said that they had little confidence in Mr. Obama’s leadership, while only 36 percent said they approved.

c Kara Rowland contributed to this report.

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