Worse than North Korea: the Middle East’s image problem

So Iran is viewed more negatively in the UK than North Korea, according to a new survey. It’s not surprising to find a country like Iran has an image problem – it generally only makes the news in the UK for its desire to stone people to death or to build a nuclear bomb – but worse than North Korea? That's surely a new low. But that’s not the end of it as far as the Middle East goes. In the survey of more than 3,000 people, which was carried out in the UK in June and July, all the Middle East countries that people were asked about ended up with a negative score – Israel was 4th worst overall, Libya not much better at 6th, Turkey was 7th, Saudi Arabia 11th and Egypt 15th.

Just as Africa suffers from the perennial problem of only being in the news when there is a war, coup or famine (the World Cup this year was something of an exception), the Middle East only really gets talked about in regard to wars, oil, egotistical politicians, an overly-zealous approach to religion, and conservative social attitudes.

Israel took a hammering over the raid on the Gaza flotilla in May, which probably fed into its negative score, and Libya has had a reputation problem in the UK for decades because of things like the murder of Yvonne Fletcher in 1984, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 and the controversial return home of the one man convicted of that crime, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, last year.

But it’s still surprising to see Egypt and Turkey do so badly – they’re best known in the UK as holiday destinations and little else.

The country attitude question was part of a wider survey of 2,481 members of the public and 877 ‘opinion formers’ and their attitudes to the UK’s foreign policy priorities. The full report can be downloaded here, but if you just want to see the net rankings of countries click here.