Expert Commentary

Views on democracy in the Muslim world: Pew Global Attitudes Project 2012 report

2012 Pew Research Center report evaluated changing views of individuals in Muslim countries regarding government, equality and the effects of the Arab Spring

Following the initial euphoria of the 2011 Arab Spring, citizens in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Tunisia set about the hard work of reforming and rebuilding their public institutions. One central question, particularly in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victory in Egypt and the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Libya, remains how truly democratic these societies will become. Will they favor Western-style politics, Islamist rule or a distinctive hybrid?

A July 2012 report by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project, “Most Muslims Want Democracy, Personal Freedoms and Islam in Political Life,” evaluated changing views of individuals in Muslim countries regarding government, equality and the effects of the Arab Spring. The researchers conducted surveys in six Muslim countries — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia, and Turkey — drawing a sample of 1,000 adults in each of these nations.

Key findings include:

  • The majority of respondents in Lebanon (84%), Turkey (74%), Egypt (67%), Tunisia (63%) and Jordan (61%) viewed democracy as “preferable to any other kind of government.” In Pakistan, however, only 42% of respondents believed that democracy is preferable to other forms of government. In Egypt, this sentiment has fallen four points, with 71% preferring democracy compared to 2011 to 67% in 2012.
  • The United States was widely viewed as not being supportive of democracy in the region. Across all six countries, only 21% of respondents on average viewed the U.S. as supporting democracy in the Middle East. In Egypt, 37% of respondents said the U.S. favored democracy in the region.
  • The majority in Lebanon (80%), Turkey (68%), Egypt (61%), Tunisia (61%) and Jordan (49%) valued having a democratic government over a strong leader. Only in Pakistan was there a high preference for a strong leader (61%) over having a democracy (31%).
  • The majority of respondents in Pakistan (82%), Jordan (72%) and Egypt (60%) believe in a strong role for Islam in policy making and that “laws should strictly follow the Quran.” Most respondents in Tunisia (64%) and Turkey (44%), however, favor a more limited role for Islam in politics and that “laws should follow the values and principles of Islam” but not be taken directly from the Quran.
  • The majority in all six countries, Lebanon (93%), Turkey (84%), Pakistan (76%), Tunisia (74%), Egypt (58%) and Jordan (63%), believe that women should be given equal rights with men.
  • The majority in Lebanon (81%), Egypt (69%), Tunisia (65%), and Pakistan (58%) reported being concerned about Islamic extremism in their countries.
  • Furthermore, Hamas and Hezbollah are viewed unfavorably by the majority in all six countries, but with sizable minorities viewing those groups favorably. In Egypt, the percentage of favorable views toward Hamas has gone from 49% in 2007 to 39% in 2012; likewise, favorable views toward Hezbollah in Egypt fell from 56% in 2007 to 20% in 2012.
  • Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain overwhelmingly unpopular in all countries surveyed. In Egypt, for example, Al Qaeda was viewed as unfavorable by 73% of respondents and the Taliban by 76%.

“While democratic rights and institutions are popular,” the report notes, “they are clearly not the only priorities in the six Muslim majority nations surveyed. In particular, the economy is a top concern. And if they had to choose, most Jordanians, Tunisians and Pakistanis would rather have a strong economy than a good democracy. Turks and Lebanese, on the other hand, would prefer democracy. Egyptians are divided.”

Tags: religion, Middle East

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