This article evaluates Arab public opinion with the “Arab Opinion Index” by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar. The Index covers 12 Arab countries with 85 percent of the population of the entire Arab world. The data was weighted by UNDP population figures in order to arrive at conclusions about the totality of opinions in the Arab states. There is indeed overwhelming support for democracy and change in the region, but, at the same time, the data imply real basic weaknesses of civil society support for the structures of democracy.
Ever since the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in 2011, the question has arisen as to how big the real support for democracy in the Arab world is. Recent events in Egypt have led many observers to think that instead of an “Arab Spring,” one should rather talk about an “Arab Winter.” Thousands of reports and opinion pieces in the world’s media and scholarly articles have been published on the issue, but hard facts on mass support or failure of mass support for democracy in the Arab world are rather scarce.
WHAT DO THE ARABS REALLY THINK?
This article will attempt to 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, in order to arrive at conclusions about the totality of opinions in the Arab states. Clearly the population-rich countries of Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Morocco already account for some 62.5 percent of the total population of the 22 Arab countries. Egypt’s population, for example, is about 24 times that of Mauritania.
A MIXED PICTURE EMERGES
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 percent of the population in the Arab countries, and the separation of religion from politics is only supported by 42.8 percent of the population. That political freedom and civil liberties are a requirement of democracy is only supported by 36.3 percent, and that equality and justice among citizens are a requirement of democracy is supported by only 19.5 percent 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 percent of Arabs are against the recognition of the State of Israel, and 59.6 percent support nuclear proliferation in the region to counter the perceived Israeli possession of nuclear weapons.
Forty-one and a half percent fully support the takeover of political power by religious people, and 32.2 percent prefer to deal only with religious people in their personal relationships.
A very high percentage (85.6 percent) of the population declares itself to be religious or deeply religious, while the opinion that there is only one Arab nation is only supported by 35.6 percent.
HIGH SATISFACTION WITH LIFE AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
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 has suggested up until 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.
Recent UNDP data, however, show that according to the UNDP Human Development Index, which weights life expectancy, real incomes, and education, the global rankings of Arab countries are at least not as desperate, as many observers would expect. In addition, there have even been some improvements in the performance-at least in the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco-before the turmoil of the year 2011 and the events that have followed ever since:
Table 1: Changes in the world rank of Arab countries according to the UNDP Human Development Index, 2005-2011
|2005||2006||2007||2008||2009||2011||Improvement or deterioration of relative position in world society, 2005-2011|
|United Arab Emirates||35||32||31||29||29||29||6|
|Libyan Arab Jamahiriya||56||56||56||57||55||59||-3|
|Syrian Arab Republic||104||105||106||107||108||110||-6|
Seventy-six percent of the “Arab masses” are apparently satisfied/very satisfied with their lives, and a further 55.1 percent 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 percent (Tunisia) and -43 percent (Egypt).
Therefore, the reader is referred to Table 2 (overall regional results, calculated with proper population-weights) and to Table 3 (country results). Table 3 highlights some of the country results, which is deemed as vital for the development of democratic peace and security in the region, in grey color, leaving the further interpretation of the results to the readers.
Table 2: The drivers and bottlenecks of democratization in the Arab world- population weighted results from the “Arab Opinion Index” (12 countries, 85 percent of Arab population covered by the analysis)
|Possible drivers of future democratic pro-Western development||Weighted percentage results for all the Arab countries|
|% supporting overthrow of Mubarak||83.1|
|satisfied/very satisfied with life||76.0|
|% supporting Tunisian revolution||67.2|
|% agree: in spite of problems democratic system better||63.7|
|% satisfied/very satisfied with economic conditions||55.1|
|great deal of trust in the army||47.4|
|% agree/strongly agree religious practices must be separated from political & social life||46.6|
|% agree/strongly agree: best to separate religion from politics||42.8|
|% saying political freedom and civil liberties requirement of democracy||36.3|
|% agree strongly: clergy must not influence the way people vote||35.7|
|% satisfied/very satisfied with political conditions||27.1|
|% saying equality and justice among citizens requirement of democracy||19.5|
|Possible bottlenecks for future democratic pro-Western development||Weighted percentage results for all the Arab countries|
|% saying corruption widespread||49.2|
|% agree/strongly agree: best if religious people take over public office||41.5|
|household income does not cover regular expenses||38.6|
|% prefer to deal with religious people||32.2|
|% agree/strongly agree: in a democratic system the economic performance runs badly||25.3|
|% desire to emigrate||22.2|
|% say partner from a well-known family decisive for parental approval of a marriage||8.7|
|Data on religion and Arab nationalism||Weighted percentage results for all the Arab countries|
|% religious/very religious||85.6|
|% saying: one Arab nation||35.6|
|% saying neighboring Arab countries most threatening to country’s security||11.3|
Source: Calculated from the Arab Opinion Index data, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar, http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/5083cf8e-38f8-4e4a-8bc5-fc91660608b0.
Table 3: Percentage country results, based on the Arab Opinion Index (12 countries, 85 percent of Arab population covered by the analysis)
STILL EXISTING WEAK STRUCTURES OF CIVIL SOCIETY
Judging by the percentage of people who say that political freedom and civil liberties are an absolute requirement of democracy, presented are the following hard-core data of the development of a civil society, necessary to support the workings of a democratic system, derived from the Arab Opinion Index:
Table 4: Real civil society support for democracy in the Arab world (12 countries, 85 percent of Arab population covered by the analysis)
|% saying political freedom and civil liberties are a requirement of democracy|
Source: Calculated from the Arab Opinion Index data, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar, http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/5083cf8e-38f8-4e4a-8bc5-fc91660608b0.
Traditionally, an almost unlimited number of well-informed observers, especially from the Western security establishments, would tend to view the roots of radicalism in the region as a mix of the consequences of the demographic situation, unemployment among the young, urbanization, corruption and incompetence of the former governments etc. Such kinds of insights are being taught not only to students in graduate schools of social sciences around the West, but also-more important still-at diplomatic and bureaucratic staff training institutes and at the staff colleges of the military, the intelligence services, and police academies, from Canada to Australia and from the new Baltic NATO partners to Brazil and Chile. The wisdom these officers and officials are being taught was neatly summarized in Parameters, the flagship scholarly journal of the U.S. Army War College, by Christopher Henzel. Henzel is indeed very explicit in offering an advice on what the U.S. government (and implicitly also governments allied with America) should do and what it/they should not do. “Traditional Muslim culture” is, according to this school of thinking, for all purposes, beyond any question:
If mainstream Sunnis come to view the United States as bent on a campaign to weaken or remake traditional Muslim culture, then more and more mainstream Sunni believers will conclude that the revolutionary Salafists they once reviled were right all along. At that point the world really would see the clash of civilizations sought by both al Qaeda and some US pundits.
SUPPORTING LIBERAL CURRENTS IS THE FIRST WESTERN PRIORITY
The counter-position being advanced here proposes that one should do everything possible to strengthen Arab moderate forces, making up already two-fifths 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. Mehmet Gormez, the head of the official Turkish institution DIYANET, which oversees Muslim religious institutions in the country, warns against the kind of “traditional (Saudi Wahabi)” Muslim culture that is spreading in the region. The West and Europe, in particular, can learn a great deal from this institution.
If the Arab world wants positively to confront the twenty-first century and to become a full and mature democracy, issues like tolerance, the overcoming of male dominance in economic and political life, and the overcoming of authoritarian thought patterns become important for the future of the democratic system. Not only is “Islamophobia” in the West an issue, but xenophobia against immigrants and minority religious groups in Muslim countries is also. Even if a strong emphasis on religion is expressed, the religious doctrines are invited to start to learn from their own Enlightenment traditions, especially of Muslim philosophy, and the great global Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century.
REJECTION OF ISRAEL, THE PEACE PROCESS, AND XEONOPHOBIA
As highlighted already, 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, is astonishing. A resounding 83.7 percent of Arabs are against the recognition of the State of Israel, and 59.6 percent support nuclear proliferation in the region to counter the perceived Israeli possession of nuclear weapons. However, as shown in Table 5, such rejection rates and opinion structures need not necessarily imply, as some Western observers nowadays would suggest, an element of a “rational choice.”
In the four Arab nations with complete World Values Survey data on the issue, one is confronted with average xenophobia rates (rejections of persons of a different race, foreign workers, or people of a different religion as neighbors) of 57 percent (Jordan), 37 percent (Saudi-Arabia), and 28 percent (Morocco and Algeria). The rejection of peace with Israel might simply correspond with a dimension of xenophobia and racism, still very common in the region. Only multivariate analysis can shed a light one day on these issues and the relationship between them. Seen from a preliminary perspective, and with the free online data analysis version of the World Values Survey project, the reasons for the unsatisfactory and incomplete path toward democracy in the Arab world could become suddenly clearer: the still incomplete identification with the general aims of an open, liberal and free society. For Table 5, the author selected from the WVS questions the item, which asks respondents: “On this list are various groups of people. Could you please sort out any that you would not like to have as neighbors?”
(V35) People of a different race
(V37) Immigrants/foreign workers
(V39) People of a different religion
Table 5 specifies the percentages of the total population, corresponding to the different items, the date of the analysis (i.e. World Values Survey wave 4 is from 1999/2000; wave 5 is from 2005 to 2008), as well as an average xenophobia rate. The countries of the world are ranked according to their average xenophobia rates. The Arab countries with available data rank very badly on this scale, but also the EU member country France; while advanced democracies and also some Latin American new democracies rank very favorably on this table:
Table 5: Large-scale xenophobia is the real problem
|Neighbors: People of a different race||Neighbors: Immigrants/foreign workers||Neighbors: People of a different religion||WVS survey||Average xenophobia rate|
|Viet Nam||42%||45%||42%||wave 5||43%|
|Saudi Arabia||38%||33%||40%||wave 4||37%|
|South Korea||36%||39%||26%||wave 5||34%|
|Russian Federation||17%||33%||16%||wave 5||22%|
|South Africa||8%||25%||5%||wave 5||13%|
|Burkina Faso||10%||12%||12%||wave 5||11%|
|Great Britain||5%||16%||2%||wave 5||8%|
|United States||4%||13%||3%||wave 5||7%|
|Trinidad and Tobago||3%||5%||2%||wave 5||3%|
Source: Author’s calculations from World Values Survey, http://www.wvsevsdb.com/wvs/WVSAnalizeStudy.jsp.
PERSPECTIVES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF DEMOCRACY IN THE REGION
This article evaluated new Arab public opinion data. While the World Values Survey data show lamentable degrees of xenophobia and racism in several countries in the Arab world, the ACRPS data show an overwhelming support for democracy and change in the region. At the same time, the data show 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 percent of the population in the Arab countries, and the separation of religion from politics is only supported by 42.8 percent of the population. That political freedom and civil liberties are a requirement of democracy is only supported by 36.3 percent, and that equality and justice among citizens are a requirement of democracy is supported by only 19.5 percent of the Arab world.
Heinsohn and Pipes were right in emphasizing that the available statistics about deadly conflicts, democide, and genocide in the second half of the twentieth century suggest that the number of deaths in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1950 amounts to 51,000 people, among them 35,000 Arabs and 16,000 Jewish Israelis. By contrast, some 11,000,000 Muslims have been killed since 1948 in acts of political violence, 90 percent of them by fellow Muslims, i.e., the 35,000 Arab victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict are 0.3 percent or 1 out of every 315 global Muslim fatalities of political violence. Thus, it is time to start a Vergangenheitsbewältigung in the Arab world and the Muslim world in general, and to start to talk at once about the crimes of dictators like the Bashar al-Asad clan in Syria and other murderous regimes and conflicts, which killed in all 11 million Muslims. Terrible massacres committed by the Ba’thist Arab nationalist regimes against their own populations in Syria (Hama) and in Iraq (Halabja) cost as many or even more lives than the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. For Asad and his clan, just 20 days in February 1982 were sufficient to become one of the bloodiest murderers of the fourth quarter of the twentieth century. Unfolding current events in Syria seem to underline this perspective.
Finally, one should indeed confront here much of the “third worldist” “solidarity” of the political left-or what has remained of it-in the West with “the Arab masses,” “Palestine,” and the rest of it. Bassam Tibi was right in emphasizing, that a “third worldist” glorification of Islamism is currently a real danger in the West.
APPENDIX 1: AN ARAB PEACE AND AN ARAB DEMOCRACY INDEX
Following the well-known method of the UNDP Human Development Programme, two indices, ranging from 0 (worst value) to 1 (best value), were constructed from the data presented in this article. One Index measures the inclination in the general population towards peace with the United States and Israel, and the other index measures the preconditions in civil society for a stable democracy. All index components were weighted equally.
|Arab peace index|
% not saying Israel most threatening to personal security
% not saying U.S. most threatening to personal security
% not saying Israel most threatening to country’s security
% not saying U.S. most threatening to country’s security
% for recognition of Israel
% Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons does not justify nuclear proliferation
|Arab democracy index|
household income covers regular expenses
% no desire to emigrate
% agree/strongly disagree: in a democratic system the economic performance runs badly
% saying corruption not widespread
% no preference to deal only with religious people
% not saying partner from a well-known family decisive for parental approval of a marriage
% agree/strongly disagree: best if religious people take over public office
satisfied/very satisfied with life
% satisfied/very satisfied with economic conditions
% satisfied/very satisfied with political conditions
% saying political freedom and civil liberties requirement of democracy
% saying equality and justice among citizens requirement of democracy
% agree: in spite of problems democratic system better
% agree/strongly agree religious practices must be separated from political & social life
% agree strongly: clergy must not influence the way people vote
% agree/strongly agree: best to separate religion from politics
APPENDIX 2: XENOPHOBIA AMONG FRANCE’S MUSLIMS
|Rejection of neighbors:||Total||French Roman Catholics||French Muslims|
|People who have AIDS||22%||43%||56%|
|People of a different race||16%||32%||33%|
|People who speak a different language||15%||31%||34%|
|People of a different religion||14%||28%||34%|
|Unmarried couples living together||8%||14%||30%|
|Sample size n||846||368||38|
Source: World Values Survey, wave 5
*Arno Tausch is Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Innsbruck University and Associate Professor of Economics, Corvinus University, Budapest. He has authored or co-authored many books and articles for major international publishers and journals, among them, What 1.3 Billion Muslims Really Think. An Answer to a Recent Gallup Study (Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2009), with a foreword by Mansoor Moaddel), based on the “World Values Survey.”
 Jonathan Spyer, “The Resurgence of the Regimes in the Arab World,” Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, July 19, 2013, http://www.gloria-center.org/2013/07/the-resurgence-of-the-regimes-in-the-arab-world/.
 The Arab Opinion Project: The Arab Opinion Index, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, April 29, 2012, http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/5083cf8e-38f8-4e4a-8bc5-fc91660608b0. See also the earlier study on this topic by Arno Tausch and Hichem Karoui, Les Musulmans: Un cauchemar ou une force pour l’Europe? (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2011).
 Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, http://english.dohainstitute.org/content/2dc3bc49-a4ef-42fe-83d2-806148106b7d.
 Michael Mousseau, “Urban Poverty and Support for Islamist Terror: Survey Results of Muslims in Fourteen Countries,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 48, No. 1, (2011), pp. 35-47. Mark Tessler, “What Leads Some Ordinary Arab Men and Women to Approve of Terrorist Acts Against the United States?” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 51, No. 2 (2007), pp. 305-28, by contrast thinks that the negative image of U.S. foreign policy in the region is the main driver of terror approval.
 Alan Richards, “Socioeconomic Roots of Middle East Radicalism,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 40, No. 4 (2002), http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Naval-War-College-Review.aspx, pp. 23-38.
 Among the many texts about the intellectual history of the Muslim world, see Bassam Tibi, Der wahre Imam. Der Islam von Mohammed bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: Piper, 1996). See especially the following excellent surveys of the relevant new literature on enlightenment-oriented Muslim theology by Andreas Jacobs, “Reformislam,” Arbeitspapiere Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, No. 155 (September 2006), http://www.kas.de/wf/de/33.8230/ and Christian W. Troll, Progressives Denken im zeitgenössischen Islam: ein kritischer Überblick (Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Interkultureller Dialog, 2006), http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/akademie/berlin/03549.pdf.
 Mehmet Gormez, “Religion and Secularism in the Modern World: A Turkish Perspective,” SAM Papers, SAM Center for Strategic Research, Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (March 2, 2012), http://sam.gov.tr/religion-and-secularism-in-the-modern-world-a-turkish-perspective/, pp. 9-10.
 This could be taken as an example of Muslim exclusivism, described by Douglass Pratt, “Islamic Prospects for Inter-Religious Dialogue: The Contribution of Fethullah Gülen,” http://www.fethullahgulen.org/conference-papers/contributions-of-the-gulen-movement/2469-islamic-prospects-for-inter-religious-dialogue-the-contribution-of-fethullah-gulen.html.
 The amount of xenophobia among France’s Muslims is astonishing. According to the World Values Survey wave 5, the rates are as follows:
 Gunnar Heinsohn and Daniel Pipes, “Arab-Israeli Fatalities Rank 49th” FrontPageMagazine.com, October 8, 2007, http://www.danielpipes.org/4990/arab-israeli-fatalities-rank-49th.