Few Muslims believe US stands for Democracy; Demand for more personal freedom, Islam – Report

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Thousands of protesters in Morocco demand King Mohammed to give up some of his powers, dismiss the government and clamp down on corruption. Photo – Yoan Valat/fedephoto

Majority of population in Muslim nations expressed their strong desire for democracy more than a year after the first stirrings of the Arab Spring, a report revealed on Wednesday.

A survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre showed solid majorities in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan believe democracy is the best form of government. Around 42% Pakistanis also expressed their confidence in the democratic system. The second most populous Muslim nation has seen most of its 64 years as a functioning state under dictatorship.

The findings by the American think tank said Muslims do not just support the general notion of democracy – they also embrace specific features of a democratic system, such as competitive elections and free speech. “A substantial number in key Muslim countries want a large role for Islam in political life. However, there are significant differences over the degree to which the legal system should be based on Islam,” the Pew Research Centre report said.

Islam, Shariah, Politics

An overwhelming majority in Pakistan, 82% of participants, demanded “laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran.” The desire was also resonated by 72% of Jordanians, 60% of Egyptians, 23% of Tunisians and 17% of Turks and Lebanese.

In five of six nations polled, solid majorities believe Islam was already playing a large role in the country’s political life. A resounding majority of 84% think Islam has a major role in newly democratic Tunisia, where the Islamist party Ennahda won the largest share of votes in the recent parliamentary elections.

Similarly, 66% Egyptians hold the same view, up from 47% two years ago. The most populous Middle Eastern nation recently saw the victory of Muslim Brotherhood in both parliamentary and presidential elections.

Meanwhile, more than six-in-ten in officially secular Turkey and Lebanon believe Islam is a major part of political life in their countries. This view is especially pervasive among Lebanese Christians – 75% think Islam has a major role.

Jordan stood out as a clear exception on this issue as only 31% in the Hashemite kingdom believe Islam currently plays a large part in their nation’s political life. Around 63% said it has a small role with 80% of them said it is a ‘bad thing’ that Islam has only a minor part in the country’s politics.

Gender Equality

A majority of participants taking part in the poll believe women should have the same rights as men with Lebanese leading the pack with 93% believing in gender equality. The idea was also supported by 76% of Pakistanis and 74% of Tunisians – 65% men in both countries. The least support for equal rights for women came from Jordanian men where only 44% committed themselves to the idea. Egyptian men followed their Jordanian counterparts with 53% support for gender equality. Lebanese men (88%) overwhelmingly supported gender equality rights matched by 98% women compatriots.

While majority of the participants from 6 Muslim countries supported the idea of gender equality, results suggest it does not necessarily apply to specific aspects of public and private life. Pew Research report explained: “For instance, at least half in Tunisia, Pakistan, Turkey and Jordan say men make better political leaders. When it comes to economics, most say women should be able to work outside the home, but most also believe that when jobs are scarce, jobs for men should be the first priority.”

The findings also revealed that many of those surveyed believe a woman’s family should help choose her husband, rather than the woman herself – with a majority of Pakistanis and Jordanians holding this view.

Rejection of Islamic Extremism

An overwhelming majority of poll participants opposed Muslim extremists, with support for Al-Qaeda expressed by just 2% of Lebanese and 6% Turks. Extremist support did gain double digits in other countries like Egypt (19%), Tunisia (16%), Jordan (14%) and Pakistan (13%). An equal percentage of Pakistanis also support the Taliban but Pew Research Centre reported that questions about al Qaeda and Taliban were asked at a later point in the interview than in other countries.

Economic Democracy Demanded

When respondents were asked which is more important, a good democracy or a strong economy, around 60% Pakistanis and Jordanians preferred economy over democracy. Turkey (58%) and Lebanon (53%) are the only countries where more than half choose democracy whereas Egyptians were evenly divided (49%-48%).

However, poll participants expressed grim views about the economic situation in their countries, with a notable exception coming from Turkey. Nearly six-in-ten Turks (57%) say their country’s economy is in good shape, but at least seven-in-ten in Pakistan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan offered negative assessments.

The Pew report added that while few in Tunisia and Egypt describe the current economy as good, 75% of Tunisians and 50% of Egyptians believe the economy will improve in the next 12 months and expressed optimism about the future.

Political Support for Embattled Leaders

In the backdrop of tensions on Iran’s alleged nuclear programme, 76% of Pakistanis held a favourable view of Iran with 47% of them expressing their support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, on the other hand, received a very negative rating across the nations included in the survey with 89% of people from Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia urging him to step down. The strongest support for the embattled Syrian leader came from Lebanon’s Shia population of which 97% opposed any move to remove him from power. A resounding 80% of Sunnis and 67% Christians in Lebanon demanded change in the neighbouring country.

The polls were conducted in March and April, with a sample of 1,000 participants per country and a margin of error ranging from more or less than 3.9 to 5.2 points across the different countries.

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