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06/26/2013

The Arab uprisings? We're feeling good about it, survey says

Arabs are feeling good about their revolutions, they believe in democracy and would like to keep religion separate from politics.

Those are the surprising results of a new public opinion survey of 20,350 Arab citizens conducted in countries that have seen change and upheaval which, transmitted half a world away to us, seem overwhelmingly negative. The uncertainty in Egypt, carnage in Syria and militias dominating Libya, to name a few.

But in 14 countries including Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Libya, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, people are much more optimistic, according to the report by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, a think tank in Qatar.

A resounding 61 per cent of respondents described the Arab Spring as “positive” or “positive to some extent.”

When asked if the revolutions have been successful in achieving goals of securing human rights, laying the foundations for democracy and public liberties, 20 per cent said it has already achieved its aims. (Which admittedly may be a little too optimistic.) Another 26 per cent said these changes will be achieved in the next 1 to 3 years.

Syrians were not included in this survey - their responses would certainly skew the results - but 66 per cent of their brethren in the region were in favour of regime change in Syria. 

There has been a lot of concern about the rising tide of political Islam in places such as Egypt and Tunisia. However, 82 per cent of respondents said a democratic political system, not Sharia-based system, is appropriate for their home countries. When asked whether they supported the statement "It would be better if religion were separated from politics" 46 per cent agreed. 

Which goes to show there is a vast gap between what ordinary people in the Arab world want and expect, what their rulers say, and what we in the English-speaking democracies believe them to want. 

Some fine print: Respondents were selected through a randomized, sampling process and interviewed face to face from July 2012 to March 2013. Margins of error ranged between two per cent and three per cent. 

READ MORE: The Toronto Star's Middle East coverage

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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