Monday, May 11, 2009

The OTHER elephant in the room

I speak, of course, of politics.

After two weeks I'm not sure it would be fair of me to make any kind of broad assertions about the political leanings of an entire country. I will say, though, that although no one at street level seems to pay a ton of attention to local politics--it is a monarchy-type system, after all--there is a lot of discussion about the region and the world.

The assumption in the States is that there is a lot of animus toward the West in general and the United States in particular. That's not totally unfounded for the Middle East; U.S. actions have had a tremendous impact here, usually in terms of bullets and political strife.

But as with politics in any country, even the United States, the worse off you are, the more you tend to distrust and dislike the people in power. The UAE? Not bad off. Fantastically wealthy, in fact. So the U.S. ain't so bad when you're rolling in a Maserati. There was an interesting story on this topic in today's The National:

In the Emirates, while 34 per cent of those questioned had a favourable opinion of the superpower, the 40 per cent unfavourable was the second lowest in the survey; only Kuwait, with 34 per cent, was lower. 

The Emirates and the US have close political and economic ties. The UAE is America’s biggest single export market in the region. It is the only Arab country to have troops operating alongside the Americans in Afghanistan, and more than 750 US companies have operations here.

The Kuwatis, of course, love Americans because we saved their (imitation) bacon 20 years ago.

Another perhaps more interesting point in the survey, conducted by Ipsos-McClatchy, was that people in this part of the world think more highly of Barack Obama than they do the United States as a whole. Great, more high expectations for a guy who inherited one of the rawest raw deals in the history of raw deals.

Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE found a region generally more optimistic about Mr Obama, who became US president in January. The UAE is among the most optimistic: 52 per cent of those polled here approved of him, while 19 per cent said they were “neutral” on him. They were topped by Jordan, with a 58 per cent favourable opinion of Mr Obama, and Saudi Arabia, with 53 per cent.

But more telling, Mr Obama had a far lower negative approval rating in the UAE – only 14 per cent of those polled here held an unfavourable opinion of him, compared to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where 24 and 29 per cent, respectively, were unfavourable.

Note all the "ou" spellings in there. Anyway, the conclusion is that there is very little anger toward the U.S. here, at least that I have witnessed, and that seems to be backed up by this poll. One woman, a Tunisian who has lived here for nearly 20 years, told me that Americans were the nicest of all expats. Of course, she was trying to get me to rent a flat at the time, so take that with a few grains of salt.

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