09/25/2012 - A majority of people in Arab countries and other predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East increasingly are embracing democracy, according to the latest survey of the region by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Project.
More than a year after the Arab Spring of 2011, large majorities of those polled in six countries in April said they see democracy as the best form of government. In Lebanon, 84 percent favored democracy, followed by Turkey (71 percent), Egypt (67 percent), Tunisia (63 percent), Jordan (61 percent) and Pakistan (42 percent).
But the survey reported that the United States “is not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East.” Only 37 percent of those polled in Egypt, a key U.S. ally, said America wants democracy in the region. In other findings, many Muslims said they want Islam to play an important role in their country’s political life, and Muslim nations largely rejected extremist groups, although some organizations got sizable support in several countries.
“What you see is that Muslim publics have a number of important priorities,” said Richard Wike, the project’s associate director. “They clearly want democracy, and they want free speech and competitive elections. But it’s also clear that economics are important. Prosperity is a high priority. Most people polled would choose a strong economy over a democratic government.”
He said the survey also showed that “Turkey is emerging as a country with a lot of clout in the Middle East. A lot of people gave very high marks to Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey still has its own internal issues and controversies, but people in the Middle East do see democratic institutions there working.”
Wike acknowledged that in a region that is often volatile politically, polling has its challenges. “Politics, religion, extremism—these are all things that have to be dealt with,” he said. “It’s hard to get good samples in some areas, for instance. You can see that in Pakistan, where it is just not safe in some parts, particularly in the northwestern tribal areas. But we still managed to conduct our polling in 80 percent of the country.”
The project’s research in the region usually gains wide coverage in this country, but it elicits keen interest in the Middle East as well, Wike said. “In many of those countries there is already polling done, but we find there is an appetite for our work. We do see the local press pick up our reports, and they become part of the conversation in that country. And people like to see how their country compares with others.”
For more on the report, Most Muslims Want Democracy, Personal Freedoms, and Islam in Political Life, go to www.pewglobal.org.