Friday, December 30, 2005

  • Friday, December 30, 2005
  • Elder of Ziyon
A poll released by the Arab American Institute looked at attitudes of the Arab people throughout the Middle East towards various issues:
Arab American Institute: Arab Attitudes Poll 2005:
1. The most important political issues facing the Arab world are largely the same in 2005 as they were in 2004: expanding employment, improving health care, and education ranking first, second, and fourth. In third place is an issue we did not include in our 2004 poll: ending corruption and nepotism. It is noteworthy that “resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” has dropped from second place in 2004 to seventh place in this year’s survey.
I have a theory about this.

In years past, the Arab governments had a monopoly on information that the Arab public could see, and from the middle of the 20th century until a couple of years ago, they had no problem using that monopoly to manipulate public opinion for their own purposes. This was clearly not the case in the earlier part of the 1900s; the Palestine Post articles I've been researching from the 40's shows that the Arab people were far more independent and outspoken than they had been in the 60's or 90's. They had no problem criticizing their government, and the divide between them and their supposed leaders was apparent.

The Arab people of the early 20th century were far more concerned with their personal family welfare than with any geopolitical issues. National boundaries were meaningless, as Arabs freely moved between areas to where ever they could best provide for their families. In fact, most "Palestinian Arabs" moved to the area after the Jews started moving in en masse for purely economic reasons - a large percentage in the 20's and 30's.

Not to say that they were all happy with Jews taking power in Israel; the Arab mental block against "losing" land that was once Muslim is strong. But to the average Palestinian Arab the Jews brought more prosperity and they co-existed fine. It was the leadership that felt threatened by Jews in power.

As Israel was restored, the neighboring Arab nations wanted to fight it by any means possible, and one very effective way was to manipulate Arab public opinion. The West has always had an irrational fear of the mythical "Arab street," and the Arab leaders used this fact as a weapon, threatening the West constantly with unleashing the power of their angry citizens. It was of course a joke - they were pulling the strings all along, and their citizens had little freedom to protest anything against their governments.

The best example of public opinion whiplash occured in Egypt during Camp David. The Egyptian press praised Israel for dismantling towns in the Sinai, showing TV footage and making Egyptians sympathetic towards peace. As soon as the Sinai was in Egyptian control again, the press did a quick 180 and the incitement started anew.

The Arab governmental control of their media had other consequences, of course. They could limit world coverage of their own atrocities, such as the Syrian massacre of 20,000 in Hama, and they could distract their people from their own corruption by playing up imagined Jewish crimes.

In the new century, things started changing. Three trends are funadmentally changing the ability that Arab governments have to manipulate public opinion: Satellite TV, the Internet, and the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now ordinary Arabs can see what is going on from different perspectives. Self-criticism is increasing. People want more freedom. They are no longer dependent on the government line. Even though the Arab countries are still far from democratic, the leaders are clearly reacting to their citizens, rather than just pushing them.

And the Arab people, when armed with real information, tend to see that the importance of the Palestinian issue is nothing compared to the problems they have in their daily lives. Blaming Israel for the problems of someone in Kuwait or Bahrain or even Egypt makes no sense. The Arabs are now feeling more free to express themselves, and freedom is a hard thing to give up once you have had it.

There were other interesting parts of the poll, some unexpected:
2. The most important concerns in personal life are matters close to home; family, quality of work, marriage, and religion. The significance of religion has declined in most countries and is in 5th place among younger Arabs.

3. Overall, Arabs appear to be satisfied with their present situation and optimistic about their future. Most significant changes occurred in Lebanon where both optimism and satisfaction doubled since 2002.

4. Significant majorities of Arabs in all countries accept women in the work place, especially if the reason is to provide financial support for their families, and smaller majorities also support women working for other reasons: “to find a fulfilling career” or “because she wants to work.”

5. In 2005, more Arabs prefer to self-identify with their country of origin, than with their religion, or “being Arab.” In 2002, religion and sect were principle self-identifiers.

6. Overall, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. have rebounded since 2004, but are still slightly lower than the already low 2002 ratings. Negative attitudes toward the U.S. have hardened due largely to Iraq and “American treatment of Arabs and Muslims.”

7. There is a growing pessimism toward “the likelihood of peace.” Positive attitudes have dropped in most countries, most notably in Egypt and Jordan.

8. Only in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do Arabs report optimism in the promise of finding a job in their own country. Majorities, in the other four countries polled, report that they would relocate to another country to find work.
Each of these are worth an essay in themselves, but much of it is very encouraging and, I would argue, that much of it (acceptance of women in the workplace, less emphasis on religion) is also a result of the freer flow of information to the Arab world.

UPDATE: Daled Amos notices something else interesting about this poll.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون



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