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Most Americans Believe Majorities in Egypt, Libya, Did Not Support Attacks

October 8, 2012

But Public Dissatisfied With Arab Government Response
and Favors Decreased Aid to Egypt

Full Report (PDF)
Questionnaire with Findings (PDF)

Majorities of Americans say that the attacks against American embassies in Egypt and Libya on September 11, 2012, were supported only by extremist minorities--not by majorities of the population (63% for Egypt, 61% for Libya).

(Photo Credit: Ibn Zawaar)

However Americans are dissatisfied with the response of the Egyptian and Libyan government. Majorities say governments didn't try to protect American diplomats and their staff in Egypt (53%) and even more so Libya (63%), where the American Ambassador Stevens was killed.

Less than half of Americans believe that the Egyptian and Libyan governments criticized the attacks. For both governments, 47% of respondents said they criticized the attacks, while 42% said they did not.

Only about one in three believe that Egypt (31%) or Libya (34%) have tried to find and arrest the perpetrators. Rather 57% and 55%, respectively, believe they have not tried.

Seven in ten favor reducing aid to Egypt, sharply up from about half last June. Still only three in ten favor stopping it entirely. This was after hearing strongly-stated arguments for and against reducing aid. Those who perceive the Egyptian government as failing to criticize the attacks, protect American diplomats, or pursue the perpetrators of the attacks were substantially more likely to favor reducing or stopping aid to Egypt.

These are some of the findings of a new poll conducted by the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). The polling project was directed by Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor at the University of Maryland and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and Steven Kull, Director of PIPA.

The poll of 737 Americans has a margin of error of +/-4.6% (including design effect) and was fielded September 27-October 2 by Knowledge Networks.

Fifty-four percent have an unfavorable view of Egypt (39% favorable). This is up only slightly from August 2011 when 51% had an unfavorable view and 40% a favorable one, but it contrasts with April 2011, shortly after the revolution, when 60% expressed favorable views of Egypt.

Perceptions of Libya are strikingly unfavorable (75%) with only 19% expressing favorable views.

Views of the Arab people and the Muslim people have not changed significantly--views are now evenly favorable and unfavorable. Majorities continue to say that it is possible for the West and the Muslim world to find common ground (53%) and to attribute the conflicts between Islam and the West to political rather than cultural or religious factors (51%), but these majorities have declined from earlier this year.

"Arab and Muslim reactions to the anti-Islamic video appear to have influenced American public opinion on some issues but not others. On the one hand, views of Arabs and Muslims, and support for democracy, have not been substantially affected, as majorities of the American public seem to differentiate between Arab and Muslim majorities and violent extremists. On the other hand, Americans are dissatisfied with how governments in Egypt and Libya have responded to the attacks and a large majority now favors reducing aid to Egypt" said Shibley Telhami.

At the same time Americans continue to see US relations with the Muslim world and the Arab-Israeli conflict as a major priority. Two thirds continue to express the view that the US relationship with Muslims and Muslim-majority countries are among the "top five issues." Only a quarter favors the US reducing its diplomatic engagement in the Middle East. And a plurality favors the US continuing to support democracy, even if it leads to a less friendly government.

Americans are very pessimistic about the benefits of Israel making a military strike on Iran's nuclear program. Only 15% believe that it would delay Iran's capabilities to develop nuclear weapons by more than five years. A majority believes that it either would have no effect (14%), would even accelerate Iran's program (22%) or would just slow it down 1-2 years (20%). Another 20% think it would slow it down 3-5 years.

Americans also express very negative views about the possible consequences for the United States were Israel to strike Iran's nuclear program. Majorities believe that
it would lead to Iran striking American bases and draw the US into a war with Iran (70%), drastically increase the price of oil (86%) and worsen America's military and strategic position in the Middle East (55%). Still, a slight majority (53%) favors taking a neutral stance toward the possibility of Israel carrying out such a strike, though more favor discouraging Israel (29%) than encouraging Israel (12%) to do so.

Majorities of Americans favor the US, jointly with it allies increasing diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria (60%), and imposing a no-fly zone over Syria (59%). However majorities continue to oppose providing arms and supplies to anti-government groups (67%), bombing Syrian air defenses (68%) or sending US troops into Syria (77%).

This study was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, Knowledge Networks provides a laptop and ISP connection. Additional technical information is available at http://www.knowledgenetworks.com/ganp/reviewer-info.html.


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