Survey finds support for democracy, positive views of Turkey
In addition to support for democracy, a poll also shows low support for extremist groups.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 17/07/12
More than a year after the first stirrings of the Arab Spring, the Muslim world has "a strong desire for both democracy and a strong role for Islam in politics and government," according to a Pew Research Centre survey released July 10th.
Sixty-four percent of respondents said they believe Turkey supports democracy in the Middle East. [Reuters]
Two-thirds of Egyptians, 63% of Tunisians, 84% of Lebanese and 71% of Turkish citizens believe "democracy is the best possible form of government," while Jordanians and Pakistanis are less enthusiastic at 61% and 42%, respectively, Pew found.
In the six states surveyed, 70% have a positive view of Turkey, 64% believe Turkey supports democracy in the Middle East, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is viewed positively by 65% of respondents.
Turkey's economic prosperity is particularly appealing in the countries surveyed, and some Turkey-style civil liberties, though still flawed, are in demand, according to the poll. But still, only about one-third (34%) in Turkey believe the Arab Spring will result in the spread of democracy in the region, while 37% remain doubtful and 29% expressed no opinion.
Nader Hashemi, author of the book "Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies," said Turkey's prestige is rising because "it has done what most other Muslim regimes have been unable to do -- produce important and impressive economic and political gains."
Hashemi said another reason Turkey is viewed so positively in the Arab world is that "Erdogan and his government have tapped into the key identity issue for contemporary Muslim, the plight of the Palestinians."
The survey found widespread rejection of extremist groups in Turkey. The Palestinian group Hamas was viewed "favorable" by only 10%, while positive views of Hezbollah (6%), al-Qaeda (6%) and the Taliban (6%) were also low.
Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst and senior associate fellow with the Joint Centre's Silk Road Studies Programme, argues that support for violent Islamist extremism in Turkey has always been low. "Even in very religious circles, people at most try to find excuses for it rather than supporting or advocating it," he said.
"Majorities in Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Pakistan are concerned about Islamic extremism in their countries. Concern is particularly high in Lebanon, where roughly eight in ten (81%) voice a worry about extremism. In Jordan, opinion is divided, while in Turkey only about a third (32%) are concerned about the threat," the report stated.
"There is a spirit of hope and expectation in the region, and a disinclination to put faith in extremist groups that rely on violence and ideological indoctrination," explained Jenny White, associate professor of anthropology at the Boston University who wrote the book "Islamist Mobilization in Turkey" and is writing a book called "Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks."
Part of Turkey's appeal, she said, is that the country is viewed as a prosperous Muslim society that still retains its conservative values and family structure.
According to the poll, in Turkey 64% of respondents said Islam plays a "large role" in politics, with 57% saying this was "good" and 33% "bad." Yet, only 17% said laws should "strictly follow the Quran," 44% said laws should "follow the values and principles of Islam," 27% said the Quran should have no influence and 13% didn't know.
Onder Kucukural, an Istanbul-based analyst and PhD candidate at Sabanci University in Istanbul, told SES Türkiye in the Middle East and, particularly in Turkey, the shape democracy will take in the near future will likely be determined "by conflicts concerning the status of religion in the public sphere, and religion's relationship to the state."
"That is, the definition of secularism will have an imprint on the depth of democracy in these countries," he said, adding that "the role of women in public sphere serves as a litmus test in assessing attitudes towards secularism and democracy."