What Arabs think – The Pomegranate

Protesters in Yemen in 2011, demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's removal. (Photo: CNN)

Protesters in Yemen in 2011, demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s removal. (Photo: CNN)

The Pomegranate (Beirut, Lebanon, June 25, 2013) –The past two and a half years have been some of the most eventful in modern Middle Eastern history. Popular revolutions have ousted dictators in Tunisia, Egypt (pictured), Libya and Yemen, and provoked a civil war in Syria. They have also ushered in a resurgence of Islamism, heightened sectarian rhetoric, civil struggles over the nature of the state and a regional and global war by proxy as rival powers back opposing sides in Syria. So what do people in the region think of these tumultuous times?

A recent survey of 20,000 people in 14 Arab countries carried out by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy, a Doha-based think-tank, offers some insight. While bad news makes the biggest headlines in the West, positive developments are also discernible, such as a rise in freedom of speech. Of those questioned, 61% see the Arab spring as positive overall, while 22% think it has been negative. Although Syria’s rebels are losing support as the war becomes ever-more vicious and the jihadis ever-more numerous, few think President Bashar Assad holds the answer: 66% reckon his regime should be overthrown. Only 3% think Syria’s rebels should be crushed. Unhappily for those hoping for a negotiated peace settlement, just 10% of Arabs think that is the best way out of the crisis.

Most respondents, who answered questions face-to-face between July 2012 and March this year, want democracy and a pluralist system in which all parties, religious or otherwise, can compete. They also want the influence of clerics on public affairs to be checked. But respondents are split over whether religion and politics should be separate—most are happy for religious parties to compete in elections. Half say they are not worried about the rising influence of Islamists, while more than a third expresses some concern, including 16% who are seriously concerned—views evident in Egypt where protests against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood are planned for June 30th.

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