DUBAI: There has been a dramatic shift in the perception of America by young Arabs over the past two years, with a solid majority — some 57 percent — now regarding the US as an enemy rather than an ally.
Instead, Russia is increasingly regarded as the top non-Arab ally by young people in the region, with 20 percent seeing it as the region’s best friend outside the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
That is one of the key findings to come out of a face-to-face survey of 3,500 Arabs between the ages of 18-24 across the region earlier this year. The ASDA’A Burston-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, now in its 10th year, is the largest sample of public opinion among young people — the biggest demographic — in the Middle East and North Africa.
It is the first time the US has been outside the top five “friendly” countries in the survey, falling to 11th position.
Antipathy toward America is most pronounced in the Levant, with 31 percent favoring Russia compared to 15 percent for the US. But Vladimir Putin’s country is viewed more positively than Donald Trump’s America in both the Arabian Gulf and North Africa too.
In 2016, 25 percent of young Arabs surveyed said the US was their top non-Arab ally, compared with only 9 percent in favor of Russia.
The two years since then have been dominated by President Trump’s new focus on the region, in contrast to what many analysts saw as former President Obama’s withdrawal from involvement in Arab affairs.
The period has also witnessed the involvement of Russia in the military conflict in Syria on behalf of Iran-backed president Bashir Assad.
The survey showed that nearly three quarters of young people polled saw the election and presidency of Donald Trump as having a negative impact on the region. Only 7 percent saw it as positive. Trump’s election was more negatively regarded than the decline in oil prices and the war in Yemen.
The other developments seen as more negative for the region than the Trump presidency were the rise of the Sunni-Shiite divide, the civil war in Syria, the global financial crisis and the rise of Daesh.
The digital revolution and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq were seen as the most positive.
Young Arabs increasingly believe that Daesh is getting weaker, with 78 percent agreeing with that proposition, and 68 percent confident in their government’s ability to deal with the terrorist organization.
Some 58 percent said that Daesh and its ideology would be fully defeated, while 18 percent thought that it would lose territory, but remain a significant terrorist threat.