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Pew: Most Muslims Want Both Democracy and Islam in Political Life, Few Believe U.S. Backs Democracy

On July 10, the Pew Research organization released a new poll about Muslim attitudes toward political life. It found that the majority of respondents in key countries still support democracy—and specific types of freedom—even as many also want a significant role for Islam in politics.

The Pew poll in six countries also found that the majority of respondents support equal rights for women. But Muslims in key countries do not believe the United States is promoting democracy in the Middle East.Excerpts from the poll taken in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey are posted below, with a link to the full report at the bottom.

More than a year after the first stirrings of the Arab Spring, there continues to be a strong desire for democracy in Arab and other predominantly Muslim nations, finds a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

Solid majorities in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan believe democracy is the best form of government, as do a plurality of Pakistanis. These publics 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 United States is not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East. In newly democratic Tunisia, only about three-in-ten believe the American response to the political upheaval in their country has had a positive impact.

Despite the tumult and uncertainty of the last year, views about democracy are mostly unchanged since 2011, although support has declined somewhat in Jordan. Enthusiasm for democracy tends to be generally less intense in Jordan and in Pakistan. It is consistently strong in Lebanon and Turkey.

The survey, conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey from March 19 to April 20, also finds:

·         Economic Concerns: While democratic rights and institutions are popular, they are clearly not the only priorities. In particular, the economy is a top concern. And if they had to choose, most Jordanians, Tunisians and Pakistanis would rather have a strong economy than a good democracy. Turks and Lebanese, on the other hand, would prefer democracy. Egyptians are divided.

·         Role of Islam: Majorities in Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt believe laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran, while most Tunisians and 44% of Turks want laws to be influenced by the values and principles of Islam, but not strictly follow the Quran.


Gender Equality: Majorities in all six nations believe women should have equal rights as men, and more than eight-in-ten hold this view in Lebanon and Turkey. In Egypt, a slimmer majority (58%) favors equal rights, while 36% oppose the idea. Moreover, while many in the six nations surveyed support the general principle of gender equality, there is less enthusiasm for gender parity in politics, economics and family life.

·         Extremist Groups: Extremist groups are largely rejected in predominantly Muslim nations, although significant numbers do express support for radical groups in several countries. While there is no country in which a majority holds a favorable opinion of Hamas, it receives considerable support in Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt. Sizable minorities in Jordan and Egypt have a favorable view of Hezbollah, but the organization’s image has been declining in both countries in recent years. Views about Hezbollah are sharply divided along sectarian lines in Lebanon. Across all six nations, less than 20% have a positive opinion about al Qaeda or the Taliban.

·         Iran and Syria: On balance, opinions about Iran are negative, although Pakistan is a clear exception – 76% of Pakistanis have a favorable view of Iran, and 47% rate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad positively. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad generally receives very negative ratings. For more, see Widespread Condemnation for Assad in Neighboring Countries, released June 21, 2012. 

This report includes a special section on public opinion in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began. For the full report, visit