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Dr James Zogby presented the results of a poll on how non-Arab Muslims view the Arab World.
Dr James Zogby presented the results of a poll on how non-Arab Muslims view the Arab World.

Other Muslims want better ties to Arabs

Poll finds favourable impression especially over cultural links.

Non-Arab Muslims are far more likely to have a positive view of the Arab world if they have visited it, a new study has found.

About 5,000 people from Senegal, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey took part in the study, by the political and policy research body the Arab American Institute (AAI). Respondents were drawn from various ethnicities and social classes.

Pakistanis looked on the Arab world most favourably, with 95 per cent saying they felt positively about Arabs. Just 76 per cent of Iranians said the same.

Dr James Zogby, the president of the AAI, said he was unsurprised that Iranian attitudes were unfavourable in many areas.

He was, however, pleased that Iranians who had visited the region were much more positive than those who had not.

"It's almost two to one and so the net impact is if you visit here you'll like here. If you don't visit here you may be inclined to have some negative attitudes."

And few had. Only 44 per cent of Senegalese respondents had been to any Arab country. And people from the other countries were even less likely to have visited - just 29 per cent of Iranians and 14 per cent of Pakistanis. Malaysians and Turks were less likely still, at 9 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

For those from Iran and Pakistan who had travelled to an Arab country, the UAE was the most popular destination. Saudi Arabia was top for Malaysian and Turkish respondents, while Egypt was the most popular destination for those from Senegal.

Dr Zogby expressed surprised that so few Turks had been to Middle Eastern countries. "We found it so surprising that we polled twice. We found the same results."

And few Turks - just 10 per cent - knew any Arabs. In Senegal, the highest, that figure was 50 per cent.

Dr Zogby added that among Iranian, Pakistani and Malaysian respondents asked specifically about their attitudes towards the UAE, there was a noticeable disparity between people who had personal experience with Arabs, and those who did not.

Almost a third of Iranians - 29 per cent - had travelled to an Arab country.

"Iran's attitude towards the UAE is two to one unfavourable, but of those who have travelled to the UAE - about 9 per cent of all Iranians in the survey - it's 58 per cent favourable," said Dr Zogby.

Overall, 43 per cent of the 1,200 Iranians interviewed had a favourable attitude towards the country.

The Arab Spring also appeared to have had a significant impact in the survey, which was carried out in June.

When asked what came to mind when thinking about Arabs, revolts and politics placed highly among Pakistani, Malaysian and Turkish respondents.

"Interestingly the negative comments - which were about a quarter of the Pakistani, Malaysian and Turkey responses, but over half of the Iranian responses - focused on issues like backwards, or passive," said Dr Zogby.

"Iranians in particular saw the Arabs as subservient to the West, unjust and very divided among themselves.

"Overall, we still get favourable responses in most of the countries."

Arab history and culture and Islam also rated highly as both the first and best thoughts that come to mind when respondents heard the term "Arab".

"Many respondents mentioned ancient monuments and civilisations - particularly Pharaonic Egypt - a tolerance and respect for religions, customs and traditions, and economic development and prosperity," said the study.

This was further reflected when people were asked which Arab countries they should have closer ties to, with Egypt ranking the highest among Senegal, Malaysia and Turkey, accounting for 47, 74 and 67 per cent respectively.

Iranians favoured greater ties with Iraq (77 per cent) and Syria (69 per cent).

"In Iran, it was the countries they already had close relationships with," said Dr Zogby.

Most respondents said they wanted to learn more about Arab history and culture.

Iran polled last, with only 45 per cent confirming there was more about Arabs that they wanted and needed to learn.

"Majorities in all five non-Arab countries want better relations with Arabs," the study concluded.

zalhassani@thenational.ae

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