US viewed less positively than Russia across five Middle Eastern countries, survey finds

  • Pew Research Center surveyed 6,204 people in Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey
  • While a median 35 percent of respondents had positive views of Russia, 27 percent saw the U.S. positively; Iran fared worst at 14 percent
  • Russia, Turkey and the U.S. were seen as having grown the most in regional importance over the past decade
A member of the US forces stands guard during a meeting between US special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS and the Tabqa Civil Council in the town of Tabqa, about 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of Raqa city, on June 29, 2017.
DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP | Getty Images
A member of the US forces stands guard during a meeting between US special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS and the Tabqa Civil Council in the town of Tabqa, about 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of Raqa city, on June 29, 2017.

Russia is generally unpopular across a broad selection of Middle Eastern countries, but still has an edge in its approval rating over the United States, according to researchers.

The U.S.-based Pew Research Center found in a newly released survey that while only about a third of respondents said they viewed Russia favorably — a median of 35 percent across five countries polled — just 27 percent saw the U.S. as a force for good.

Released Monday, the survey was conducted in spring 2017 across what Pew considered to be five key Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) publics: Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.

"Overall, a number of influential powers in the Middle East are not seen in a favorable light. Roughly one-third or fewer view Russia (median of 35 percent) or the U.S. (median of 27 percent) positively," the report said.

However, even lower in the approval ratings than the U.S. is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the survey found: "Within the region, views of Iran are particularly poor (14 percent favorable), though Saudi Arabia fares better (44 percent)." Jordan and Israel held the lowest views on Iran, at 10 and 4 percent respectively, while Lebanon held the highest at 45 percent.

It should be noted that the research group did not survey the Middle East's two most populous states, Egypt and Iran. It also did not include the opinions of people in Iraq or Saudi Arabia, the fourth and fifth-most populous countries in the region. Pew surveyed 6,204 people in total.

Russia, Turkey and US have most increased importance

When asked about major global powers, the majority of respondents surveyed in the countries named Russia, Turkey and the U.S. as playing more important roles in the Middle East than they did a decade ago.

A median of 64 percent of respondents across the five countries named Russia as having grown the most in regional importance. Turkey followed with 63 percent and the U.S. with 62 percent. Fifty-three percent said Iran's regional influence was stronger than 10 years ago, while less than half said the same for Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, guards walk past a lineup of troops during a welcome ceremony for Russian military personnel who returned from Syria at an airbase near the Russian city Voronezh, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
Source: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, guards walk past a lineup of troops during a welcome ceremony for Russian military personnel who returned from Syria at an airbase near the Russian city Voronezh, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Egypt was the only country largely viewed to have lost regional importance — 71 percent of respondents said Egypt had either lost importance or remained the same.

A majority in all five countries surveyed believed that Russia's regional role had increased. What's more surprising is that only four of the five had majorities who felt the U.S.'s role had increased in that time. In Israel, 48 percent believed the U.S. had more influence today, while the remaining 52 percent felt that America's role was now either less important or unchanged compared to 10 years ago.

Unpopular leaders

Among MENA countries, the study found that leaders' approval ratings fared pretty miserably. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are tied at 12 percent approval among the five countries surveyed.

Lebanon still holds the highest approval rating of Assad at a remarkable 44 percent, but this is divided sharply along sectarian lines — 93 percent of Shias approve of the Syrian leader, compared to just 13 percent of Lebanese Sunnis.

A median of about one-third of respondents had positive opinions of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, with Jordan's King Abdullah II faring similarly poorly. Views of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan were generally mixed.

Mohammed Huwais | AFP | Getty Images

Six years into the Syrian civil war, many of the countries surveyed have been host to millions of displaced refugees.

"On the issue of allowing Syrian refugees into their country, people in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are strongly in favor of letting in fewer, with many volunteering 'none' as the best option," Pew wrote.

Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are home to the highest numbers of Syrian refugees in the world, hosting 3.3 million, 1 million and 655,000 refugees as of December 2017, respectively, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

On the Syrian crisis itself, most across the countries surveyed did not see the situation improving in the near-term. A median of 32 percent expected it to end in the next five years and a further 29 percent believed it will continue for more than five years.