x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Almost 70% believe Islamist extremism remains a threat

The world is more dangerous now than in 2001 and America's reputation has suffered, survey finds.

ABU DHABI // Ten years after the September 11 attacks and the US "war on terror" launched in response, 68 per cent of UAE residents say Al Qaeda and Islamist extremism (65 per cent) remain a threat, a survey has revealed.

Besides not improving security, 58 per cent feel the American effort has not upheld human rights - particularly Arab expatriates (68 per cent).

Just 47 per cent felt the US's role in the world had improved under President Barack Obama.

Muslim governments (36 per cent) and religious and social leaders (32 per cent) also got low marks for their efforts to combat Islamist extremism. The UAE ranked higher, with 54 per cent saying it had done well.

The survey was compiled for Al Aan TV and The National by YouGov Siraj, who polled UAE residents over 11 days late last month and early this month.

This included 385 Asians, 280 Arab expatriates, 47 westerners and 37 Emiratis. Half lived in Dubai and a quarter in Abu Dhabi. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political scientist, was surprised by the security fears, given the anti-terror measures taken by the UAE since 9/11 and Al Qaeda's weakened state.

"Al Qaeda has become so dismantled," he said. "Al Qaeda has not pulled anything in the UAE."

He said that the UAE has taken extremism very seriously due to the fact two Emiratis were involved in 9/11. "Through its financial system, its media, security ... the whole system was energised to see that this is never, ever repeated," he added.

"That kind of figure is surprising and does not square with the UAE reality and the reality around us."

Maysoon Baraky, the presenter of Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab ("Arabs' Pulse") programme, said the poll showed lingering concerns.

This is despite heavy investments in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and tougher laws and surveillance.

"Arabs feel Al Qaeda ... remains a threat even after its massive failures in recent years," she said. More than half of respondents (54 per cent) see the world as more dangerous than it was a decade ago, compared with 20 per cent who see it as the same and 18 per cent who view it as safer.

Thirty seven per cent believe Al Qaeda and Islamist extremism (43 per cent) pose a greater threat now than then - more than said it was the same (18 per cent on both measures), less (24 per cent and 15 per cent), or that they were not sure (21 per cent and 24 per cent).

Arab expatriates and Emiratis consider the world less safe - 63 per cent and 54 per cent respectively, compared with 51 per cent of westerners and 48 per cent of Asians.

But they felt less threatened by Islamist extremism or Al Qaeda.

More than half of Arab expatriates and Emiratis considered the former a concern (53 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively), compared with 81 per cent of westerners and 72 per cent of Asians.

"I don't believe [Emiratis] think Islamist extremism is worse than any others - Jewish extremism or right-wing extremism or whatever," said Dr Abdulla.

Most respondents, particularly Arabs and westerners, criticised the US-led "war on terror" for injustices committed, though not as roundly as the past decade of global criticism might have suggested. Fifty eight per cent of all respondents - including 64 per cent of westerners and 68 per cent of Arab expatriates - said human rights were poorly upheld.

Seventy per cent said the lives lost as a result of US efforts were not justifiable - a figure similar among westerners (72 per cent) and Arab expatriates (75 per cent).

Emiratis and Arab expatriates felt most strongly that Muslims were treated and portrayed unfairly in the West - 73 per cent and 70 per cent for Emiratis respectively, 73 per cent and 74 per cent for Arab expatriates, 63 per cent and 65 per cent overall.

They also showed the least support for President Obama.

A minority of Emiratis and Arab expatriates said the US's role in the world had improved since he took office (35 per cent and 39 per cent respectively), compared with 51 per cent of Asians and 70 per cent of westerners.

Emirati Omair Al Seiari, 31, an engineer, said US foreign policy under the president had not improved.

He was once a fan, having read Mr Obama's autobiography, attended his rallies and even bought an Obama T-shirt for his baby.

"I was all hope and changey," he said, referring to Mr Obama's campaign slogan. "He disappointed me."

chuang@thenational.ae