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Arab Barometer shows strong support for democracy

After Arab Spring the whole world is waiting to see which direction will democracy development take in North Africa. The contents of new constitutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have caused some concerns after Islamist parties won elections. The Arab Barometer proves that the public opinion strongly supports democracy as the best form of government.

The Arab Barometer is a survey project carried out in two waves, in 2006-2007 and 2010-2011. The first wave was done in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Yemen. The second wave was done in the same countries excluding Kuwait and adding Egypt and Tunisia, where surveys were prevented by political conditions at the time of the first wave of the survey.

Political or economic democracy?

In the survey the respondents were asked to define whether they understand democracy primarily in political terms or economic terms. There was some evidence that the political understanding of democracy increased in the wake of the Arab revolutions.

For example in the second wave survey Algerians that defined democracy in political terms increased 11 points from the first wave. When in Egypt just after revolution in the summer of 2011 democracy was seen overwhelmingly from an economic point of view. Only 6 % named “free and fair elections” as the most important characteristic of democracy when at the same time 77 % named economic factors like low inequality, elimination of corruption, or provision of basic necessities to all as the most important dimensions of democracy.

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No Arab country was a democracy at the time of the surveys according to the Freedom House’s annual report for 2010, yet support for democracy was extremely high by a range of measures. As a matter of fact support for democracy in these countries was higher than in many longstanding democracies.

Generally Arab citizens have a cautious attitude toward the pace of reform and agree that reform should proceed gradually rather than all at once.

Islam and democracy

Support for Islamist views of politics seem to be receding rather than surging according to the survey. Most of the respondents thought that religion shouldn’t influence citizens voting. In the first wave 68 % said that religion should not influence how people vote in elections and second wave 81 %.

Even fewer thought that the most religious people should hold public office. More citizens thought that religion is a private matter in the second wave of the survey.

Most individuals were against harsh Taliban-style legal system and thought that law should be guided by the will of the people. Although at the same time there remains broad agreement that laws should be consistent with people’s understanding of the shari’a.

Marc Lynch’s Article on the results of the Arab Barometer in Foreign Policy

“New findings on Arabs and democracy” –article by Mark Tessler, Amaney Jamal and Michael Robbins from the Journal of Democracy Volume 23 October 2012.

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