Opinion poll names Chavez most popular leader in Middle East

Issue 

The most popular leader among the Arab population in the Middle East, the May 20 Christian Science Monitor said, isn't even from the region: it is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

This is the result of the University of Maryland and Zogby International's 2009 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey poll.

Chavez is wildly popular for his revolutionary government's anti-imperialist stance. This has included strongly opposing Israel's December-January war on Gaza and expelling Israel's ambassador from Venezuela.

This followed Chavez's decision to recall Venezuela's ambassador from Israel in protest against its 2006 war on Lebanon.

Reuters said on May 8 that Chavez had slammed the US government for fresh massacres of civilians in Afghanistan. Chavez demanded US President Barack Obama "take apart the forces of imperialism and end the abuse of innocent peoples of the world".

Chavez, who argues for a "socialism of the 21st century", is also popular for using Venezuela's oil wealth to fund pro-poor social programs that have halved poverty. He has also nationalised key sections of the economy previously owned by multinationals.

The CSM said Chavez is a hero of the "Arab street", earning the nickname "Chavez of Arabia".

In March, Chavez spoke to Arab leaders in Qatar. Proposing a new oil-backed currency to challenge the hegemony of the US dollar, Chavez said: "A new world is being born. Empires fall.

"There is a world crisis of capitalism, it's shaking the planet."

The CSM said of such comments: "This stuff is gold dust in the Middle East."

What it didn't say was that the ceaseless wars and exploitation fuelled by Western governments and corporations were the reason why Chavez was so popular.

Chavez is a hero because of his opposition to such a system — in Venezuela and globally.