Obama more popular than U.S. among Arabs: survey

WASHINGTON Sun May 10, 2009 7:02pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's popularity in leading Arab countries far outstrips that of the United States, suggesting he could be able to boost goodwill in the region toward his country, a survey showed on Sunday.

Obama, set to give a major speech to the Muslim world in Egypt next month, "currently enjoys widespread optimism among citizens of that region that he will have a positive effect on their own country, the Middle East, the United States and indeed the world," the polling outfit Ipsos said.

Ipsos said its poll, conducted in March, involved 7,000 adults in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

Of those surveyed, 33 percent had a favorable view of the United States, 43 percent had a negative view, 14 percent were neutral and 10 percent said they did not know, Ipsos said.

In contrast, Obama received favorable ratings averaging 48 percent in the region as a whole. Approval ran as high as 58 percent in Jordan and was lowest among Egyptians, who gave Obama favorable ratings of 35 percent, Ipsos said.

Only 22 percent of Egyptians expressed a favorable view of the United States, the lowest of the six countries surveyed.

Regionwide, only one in 10 residents thought Obama would have a negative effect on their country, the poll showed.

The gulf between Obama's popularity and that of the United States indicated "there is an opportunity for the president to literally 'bridge the gap' where his reposit goodwill lifts the goodwill toward America," Ipsos said in statement.

The White House announced on Friday that Obama would deliver a much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Egypt on June 4, seeking to repair ties that were damaged under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Many Arab and Muslim nations were angered by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Bush's initial reluctance to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Ipsos said the survey had a margin of error ranging from 2.6 to 3 percentage points depending on the country.

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