August 13, 2012
Opinion Briefing: Libyans Eye New Relations With the West
U.S. approval among highest ever recorded by Gallup in MENA region
by Jay Loschky
This article is part of a series of U.S. Foreign Policy Opinion Briefings
aimed at helping to inform U.S. leaders on pressing foreign policy issues.
Quick Summary: As Libya faces enormous challenges in establishing security
and laying the groundwork for a stable and prosperous state, Gallup surveys
show Libyans are reaching out to the West for increased partnership. The
U.S. in particular has an excellent opportunity to build a mutually
beneficial, productive relationship with Libya for the first time in decades
and could potentially find itself with a new, democratic ally in North
Africa. A majority of Libyans (54%) surveyed in March 7 through April 4 2012
approve of the leadership of the U.S. -- among the highest approval Gallup
has ever recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of
Issue at Hand: Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) handed over power
to a new 200-member elected assembly last week, marking a major milestone in
the country's transition to democracy. The handover of authority from the
NTC, which has governed Libya since the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime
nearly a year ago, marks the first peaceful transition of power in modern
Western support for Libyan institutions at this stage is integral for
Libya's and the region's stability and is now a key issue among Western
security interests. Instability in Libya has already had ripple effects in
the region, as many analysts believe that Libya's revolution may have
contributed to Mali's crisis after pro-Gadhafi Tuaregs returned and allied
with Islamists to dislodge the Malian government from half of the country.
The West and the U.S. have an interest not only in ensuring Libya's
stability, but also in keeping its energy on the international market and
promoting Libyan democracy as an example in the region.
The Obama Administration's Stance: Though political opponents initially
criticized President Barack Obama about the high costs of military
intervention in Libya, criticism subsided after efforts proved successful
and costs compared favorably with recent military interventions in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Since Moammar Gadhafi's downfall, the U.S. government has
provided $170 million in transitional aid to Libya to help confront
humanitarian and security challenges. Still, the amount of foreign
assistance provided to Libya is low compared with the $2.9 billion the U.S.
gave Pakistan in 2010 to support its fledgling civilian government, and the
$2.8 billion and $1.7 billion Washington sent that year to Israel and Egypt,
other traditional regional allies.
The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have
begun to provide support for Libya's transition on a small scale. However,
U.S. officials have largely not made public what specific actions the
government plans to take to further aid Libyan security.
Record-High Support for U.S. Leadership in MENA Region: U.S. support for the
Libyan revolution may have generated an almost unprecedented level of
goodwill toward the U.S. In 2012, 54% of Libyans approve of U.S. leadership
(30% disapprove) -- among the highest approval Gallup has ever recorded in
the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of Israel.
Libyans also approve of the leadership of the United Kingdom(50%:30%), which
also supported the intervention in Libya. They are less enamored with
Germany's leaders (43%:30%), who did not support the action. Libyans express
little approval of the leadership of Russia (19%:61%) and China (22%:57%),
countries that were perceived by many as opposing rebel groups and NATO
intervention. European Union 52%:27%.
Libyans are far more likely than their Arab neighbors to have supported
NATO's military involvement in their nation's conflict, with 75% (22%
oppose) saying they favored intervention, compared with 33%:40% in Tunisia,
14%:70% in Algeria, and 13%:52% in Egypt who say the same. Unlike in Libya,
revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt succeeded in overthrowing regimes
without resorting to armed rebellion and foreign military support. Western
military intervention in Libya's revolution likely raised suspicions of
ulterior motives and may have reminded neighboring Arabs of prior, unpopular
Western military campaigns in the region.
Al-Qaeda, Former Regime Members a Major Threat: Despite Libyans' high levels
of support for NATO's intervention and general approval of U.S., U.K., and
EU leadership, many Libyans still consider Western military forces a
potential threat to their country, with 48% saying they pose a major threat.
However, Libyans are more worried about al-Qaeda and Islamic militant
groups, which 62% consider major security threats, and members of Gaddafi's
former regime, whom 61% consider to be a major threat.
Libyans Favor Western Support: Libyans broadly support several forms of
potential assistance from the West, particularly military support. More than
three in four Libyans (77%) favor Western societies sending military
equipment to Libyan armed forces, while 18% do not. More than two in three
Libyans (68%:26%) also support the West sending military trainers to their
country. That support for Western "boots on the ground" exists even while
many Libyans consider Western forces a potential threat underscores both the
poor condition of Libyan security forces and the immediate need for improved
More than three in four Libyans (77%:16%) also support the West sending
governance experts to their country, an important development in a country
that will require major institution building for years to come. The majority
(61%:34%) also favor economic aid from the West. The only form of assistance
that a majority of Libyans do not approve of is aid for political groups
(34%:56%). Opposition to Western aid for political groups may signal that
while Libyans want the West's help in building a state, they do not want
foreign interference in their political process.
Policy Implications: The U.S. and its Western allies face an almost
unprecedented opportunity to forge a true partnership with an Arab country
that has both a government and population well-disposed toward positive
relations. Many Libyans are genuinely appreciative of the support the U.S.
and some European countries provided in bringing the Gadhafi regime to an
end and want their new government to pursue closer relations with the West.
Libyans perceive many threats to their newfound freedom and largely share
the West's concern of Islamic militants. The U.S. and the West now have a
window in which to capitalize on Libyan goodwill and help the country to
revive its economy, establish security, and emerge as a responsible member
of the global community.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries
Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults
per country, aged 15 and older, conducted in March and April 2012 in
Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Some areas of Libya were excluded for
security reasons. Excluded areas represent approximately 20% of the
population. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one
can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is
±3.3 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data
weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical
difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the
findings of public opinion polls.