The annual Arab Youth Survey showed a 12-point rise in the number of respondents identifying Russia as their most trusted ally — up to 21 per cent from just 9 per cent in 2016.
The US, by contrast, dropped to 17 per cent, from 25 per cent a year ago, reflecting widespread pessimism about Donald Trump and his leadership. Nearly two-thirds of those polled — some 64 per cent — viewed Mr Trump’s presidency with concern, anger or fear, compared with 19 per cent who were positive.
Digging further into the findings, it gets worse. The survey shows not just a soft loss of trust in the United States, but a notable uptick in anti-American sentiment across wide swathes of the Arab world. This year, the survey recorded a 17-point increase among Arab youth who consider the U.S. an enemy, while the number of countries where a majority hold that view doubled:
Antipathy to Trump certainly seems to be a big factor here: 70% of respondents consider the President to be anti-Muslim, and a quarter of respondents said that Trump’s election is the event that will have the single biggest impact on the Arab world in the next 5 years.
It would be a mistake, however, to lay all the blame for the dismal results here on Trump. American influence in the Arab world declined precipitously under Obama, while Russia has cannily exploited the vacuum to re-emerge as a credible power broker. Indeed, the impression of Russia as a more dependable, less fickle partner than the United States seems to partly explain the trend. “If Russia’s standing is rising in people’s eyes, while America’s is slipping,” notes Kim Ghattas in the white paper, “it is likely because of some respondents’ desire for a reliable partner that delivers, the way Russia has done consistently for Syria’s president for example, alongside Iran.”
Of course, generalizing about the “Arab World” is always a tricky proposition, and the report rightly notes the serious regional discrepancies among the 16 countries polled. Countries with substantial Iranian proxies (like Iraq and Yemen) are more likely to favor Russia, while youth in countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar maintain a more favorable view of the United States.
Nonetheless, the general trends here is hard to miss. Through a combination of Obama’s strategic failures, Trump’s anti-Muslim demagoguery, and Russia’s savvy opportunism, the next generation of Arab youth are losing faith in Washington, while Moscow’s star is on the rise.