Turkey loses popularity in Middle East over past two years: Poll

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey's popularity in the Middle East has dropped sharply over the past two years, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday, reflecting Ankara's sometimes controversial foreign policy strategy.

The biggest decline was registered in Egypt and war-ravaged Syria, where Turkey is strongly opposed to those in power, according to the poll by an Istanbul-based think-tank.

Overall, the number of people surveyed in 16 countries who had a positive view of Turkey slid to 59 per cent this year from 78 per cent in 2011, the Turkey Economic and Social Studies Foundation said.

Turkey, a regional Sunni Muslim power, had adopted a "zero problems" policy towards its neighbours but has found itself losing influence in the wake of the Syrian civil war and the Arab Spring uprisings.

In Syria, 88 per cent of those surveyed believe that Turkey is "not friendly" towards their country, which has been in the grip of a brutal conflict since March 2011.

The Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad and hosts about 600,000 refugees from the war.

In Egypt, the ratio of those with a favourable view of Turkey dropped by more than half to 38 per cent over three years, the poll found.

Relations with the Arab heavyweight Egypt are in tatters after Erdogan's outspoken criticism of the military "coup" that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July, prompting Cairo to kick out Turkey's ambassador last month.

Nevertheless, 60 per cent of respondents supported a greater role for Turkey in the region and the country retained its popularity among other Sunni-run states such as the United Arab Emirates, the survey said.