Evidences and surprises of the “barometer of Arab opinion”

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Evidences and surprises of the




Muslim pilgrims in Mecca on October 3, 2016.


© Amr Nabil
Muslim pilgrims in Mecca on October 3, 2016.

The Arab Center for Research and Political Studies in Doha has published a major public opinion survey in the Arab world. Surprising as it may seem, it highlights a relative resemblance in responses between people from very different countries.

It is easy to talk about “Arab opinion” from a simple exchange with a taxi driver, a post on Facebook or a graffiti on a wall. And here is the opportunity to compare these impressions, necessarily fragmentary, with “The largest public opinion survey carried out in the Arab world”, according to its presentation. This is a poll released this week by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha. Carried out between November 2019 and July 2020 in thirteen Arab countries, with 28,000 women and men, and conducted by individual interviews, its results provide clear confirmations but raise some questions.

One nation

Presented as “The barometer of Arab public opinion”, the seventh of its kind since 2011, produced by the same center, is intended to be more global both in terms of the number of countries concerned and the diversity of the subjects covered. First surprise, the relative resemblance of the responses between the inhabitants of countries as different as those of the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania), the Mashreq (Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq), the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar) ) to which must be added Egypt and Sudan. A logical proximity when more than 80% of those polled consider that the Arab countries constitute the same nation, according to the survey.

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Finding out that three quarters of Arabs surveyed approve of democracy is rather reassuring. But how can we understand then that they evaluate the degree of democracy in their country at 6 on a scale of 10? Especially since it is measured on freedom of expression. Admittedly, the appreciation varies between the Tunisians or the Sudanese who evaluate their democracy at 7/10 and the Saudis who rate it at 4/10. But still giving the slightest clue to democracy in Egypt or Saudi Arabia is a little worrying. Another apparent contradiction: while 90% of those polled overall believe that corruption is rife among their leaders and their administrations, between 43 to 50% of them, depending on the country, have a positive perception of the action of their governments.

Rejection of the exploitation of religion by the rulers

On the chapter of religion, a subject often too sacred and delicate to be frankly addressed in Arab countries, mainly Muslim, the survey reveals interesting developments. Admittedly, an overwhelming majority of 86% of respondents say they are “religious”, dont 23% “Very religious” but 12% claim to be non-religious and even non-believers, and that is not nothing. But above all, 71% reject the exploitation of religion by the rulers, no doubt confirming a weakening of political Islamism. And if a small majority emerges overall for a separation between the state and religion, the percentage reaches more than 80% among the Lebanese and Iraqis who massively reject their communitarian systems.

Finally, the look of the Arab populations on the policy of regional and international powers in the region is expressed by a massive and general rejection of external interventions. Not surprisingly, the role of the United States is the most criticized with more than 70% of unfavorable opinions. Russia follows closely, then Iran with 67%, France 55%.

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