A Look at International Survey Data About Arab Opinion
(2013) ‘A look at recent international survey data about Arab opinion' Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Fall 2013), 57-74
18 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2014
Date Written: January 31, 2014
Ever since the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in 2011, the question has arisen how big is the real support for democracy in the Arab world. Recent events in Egypt have led many observers to think that instead of an "Arab Spring", we should rather talk about an "Arab Winter". Thousands of reports and opinion pieces in the world’s media and scholarly articles were published on the issue, but hard facts on mass support or failure of mass support for democracy in the Arab world are rather scarce.
We evaluate Arab public opinion with a newly available source, the "Arab Opinion Index" by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar, practically neglected by Western scholarship until now. The Arab Opinion Index project is currently the largest of its kind in the world. It covers 12 Arab countries, representing 85 percent of the population of the Arab world. It is thus a larger Arab opinion survey project than any other scholarly effort to estimate Arab opinion. The Index compiles the findings of 16,173 face-to-face interviews with subjects who were drawn from a random, representative sampling of the populations of their countries of origin. The questionnaire was prepared in 2010 and the survey was conducted in the first half of 2011. The findings are freely available from the ACRPS website. Undoubtedly, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies as a center for academic policy research in the region is one of the most important think tanks in the Arab World, clearly reflecting what is often being described as an "Arab national viewpoint" in international affairs.
For the purpose of this article, the data of the Arab Opinion Index were weighted by UNDP population figures for the year 2010/2011 so that we can arrive at conclusions about the totality of opinions in the Arab states. Clearly the population-rich countries Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq and Morocco already account for some 62.5% of the total population of the 22 Arab countries. Egypt has about 24 times a bigger population than Mauritania!
On the one hand, the Arab Opinion Index indeed shows the overwhelming support for democracy and change in the region. At the same time, these data show real basic weaknesses of the civil society support for the structures of democracy. Support for the separation of religious practices from political and social life is only expressed by 46.6% of the population in the Arab countries, and the separation of religion from politics is only supported by 42.8% of the population. That political freedom and civil liberties are a requirement of democracy is only supported by 36.3%, and that equality and justice among citizens are a requirement of democracy is supported by only 19.5% of the Arab world.
Equally interesting is the true and real extent of Arab rejection of what is denominated in the West as the "peace process" between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which would be so important for the future of peace and democracy in the region. A resounding 83.7% of Arabs are against the recognition of the State of Israel, and 59.6% support nuclear proliferation in the region to counter the perceived Israeli possession of nuclear weapons.
41.5% fully support the takeover of political power by religious people, and 32.2% prefer to deal only with religious people in their personal relationships.
A very high percentage (85.6%) of the population is declaring itself to be religious or deeply religious, while the opinion that there is only one Arab nation is only supported by 35.6%.
For the many analysts of political instability around the globe, it is especially noteworthy to see the sound and astonishing degree of satisfaction with life and economic conditions in the region. This turns the entire current western discourse on the subject on its head, which suggested up to now that so many Arabs are so radical, because they are so poor and so dissatisfied, or because "our" "policy mix" in the region causes so much dissatisfaction.
Incredibly, 76% of the "Arab masses" are apparently satisfied/very satisfied with their life, and an astonishing further 55.1% are satisfied/very satisfied with economic conditions! The sometimes alarming difference between political satisfaction and economic satisfaction reveals that in Tunisia and Egypt, where the Arab revolutions of 2011 started, there was a glaring deficit of satisfaction with political versus economic development of -46% (Tunisia) and -43% (Egypt)!
The position being advanced here proposes that one should do everything possible to strengthen Arab moderate forces, making up already 2/5 of Arab society, which indeed favor the separation of religion and politics. Western respect of other religions and civilizations does not imply that the West negates its liberal heritage, which was born by the movement of Enlightenment and democracy.
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