Across predominantly Muslim nations, there is little enthusiasm for Hamas and Hizbullah, although there are pockets of support for both groups, especially among Israel’s neighbors.
These findings, released last week, were based on a survey conducted May 18 to June 16, 2009 by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.
Four years after its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas received relatively positive ratings in Jordan (56 percent favorable) and Egypt (52%). However, Palestinians are more likely to give the group a negative (52%) than a positive (44%) rating.
And reservations about Hamas are particularly common in the portion of the Palestinian territories it controls – just 37% in Gaza expressed a favorable opinion, compared with 47% in the West Bank.
The sample size of each of the countries surveyed was over 1,000 people, and the margin of error was 3%.
Results for the attitude surveys in these nations were based on face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. All surveys are based on national samples, except in Pakistan, where the sample was disproportionately urban.
The survey also found support for Hizbullah in the Middle East, but more limited support elsewhere. While most Palestinians (61%) and about half of Jordanians (51%) have a favorable view of Hizbullah, opinions elsewhere are less positive, including Egypt (43%) and Lebanon (35%).
As with many issues in Lebanon, views of Hizbullah are sharply divided along religious lines: nearly all of the country’s Shi’ite Muslims (97%) express a positive opinion of the organization, while only 18% of Christians and 2% of Sunni Muslims feel this way.
Meanwhile, Turks overwhelmingly reject both groups – just 5% give Hamas a positive rating, and only 3% say this about Hizbullah. There is also only limited support among Israel’s Arab population for either Hamas (21% favorable) or Hizbullah (27%).
Outside of the Middle East, many in Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria are unable to offer an opinion about these groups.
Lukewarm support for extremist groups among Muslim publics is consistent with other Pew Global Attitudes findings in recent years, which have shown declining public support for extremism and suicide bombing among most Muslim populations.
The same surveys have also found decreasing confidence in Osama bin Laden. In addition, a 2009 Pew Global Attitudes survey in Pakistan – a country currently plagued by extremist violence – found growing opposition to both al-Qaida and the Taliban.
There is limited enthusiasm for most of the Muslim political figures tested on the survey, with the exception of Saudi King Abdullah, who is easily the most popular.
In Jordan and Egypt, for example, large majorities (92% and 83%, respectively) say they have confidence that King Abdullah will do the right thing in world affairs. The king receives quite positive ratings outside the Middle East as well, especially in the largely Muslim Asian nations Pakistan (64%) and Indonesia (61%).
However, the Saudi monarch does not receive high marks everywhere – only 8% of Turks voice confidence in him. And overall his ratings are less positive than they were in 2007.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah receives less positive reviews. Only 37% of Lebanese overall express confidence in Nasrallah; however, the country’s Shi’ite community shows almost unanimous confidence in him (97%).
He also receives relatively high marks in the Palestinian territories, and especially in the West Bank, where 71% say they think he will do the right thing in international affairs.
Meanwhile, confidence in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has declined since 2007, especially in the neighboring countries of Egypt (67% confidence in 2007; 33% in 2009) and Jordan (53% in 2007; 33% in 2009).
His ratings have dropped slightly among Palestinians overall (from 56% in 2007 to 52% in 2009); however, they have declined markedly among Gazans, falling from 69% to 51%.
Even before their disputed elections last year, both Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were generally unpopular among most of the Muslim publics surveyed.
Ahmadinejad’s highest ratings are in the Palestinian territories (45% confidence) and Indonesia (43%), although even among these publics, fewer than half express a positive view of his leadership. There is no country in which even 40% express confidence in Karzai, and in Pakistan (10%), Turkey (7%) and Lebanon (7%) one-in-10 or fewer hold this view.
As mentioned previously, ratings for bin Laden have generally declined in recent years, and he receives little support among most Muslim publics. However, about half (51%) of Palestinians express confidence in him, and in Nigeria, 54% of the country’s Muslim population is confident in bin Laden’s leadership.
In Pakistan, where many believe bin Laden is now hiding, only 18% express confidence in him, although 35% do not offer an opinion. Very few Turks (3%) or Lebanese (2%) express support for the terrorist leader.
Across most of the 25 nations included in the Global Attitudes survey, US President Barack Obama received positive reviews, although this was less true in predominantly Muslim countries. Even so, his ratings were consistently higher than those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and in some cases higher than for the Muslim leaders included on the survey.
For example, only 33% in Turkey have confidence in Obama, but this is still more support than Abbas, Nasrallah, Abdullah, Ahmadinejad or Karzai receive.
And the American president is quite popular among some largely Muslim publics, especially in Indonesia, where he spent several years as a child: 71% of Indonesians voice confidence in him. Obama is also popular among Nigerian Muslims (81%), Israeli Arabs (69%), and Lebanese Sunnis (65%).
There is a widespread perception among Muslims that conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites is not limited to Iraq’s borders. In nine nations, Muslim respondents were asked whether the tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites are limited to Iraq or are a growing problem in the Muslim world more generally, and in seven of those nations, a majority of Muslims say it is a broader problem.
This is a rare point of agreement among Muslims in Lebanon, a country that has experienced considerable sectarian conflict for decades. Overall, 95% of Lebanese Muslims say Sunni-Shi’ite tensions are a broad problem in the Muslim world, including 99% of Sunnis and 91% of Shi’ites.
Most Pakistani, Egyptian, Jordanian and Nigerian Muslims also see a general problem that is not limited to Iraq. Israel’s Muslim minority community is roughly divided on this question – 42% say it is a more general problem, while 38% feel it is limited to Iraq. Indonesia is the outlier on this question – 25% of Indonesian Muslims say Sunni-Shi’ite tensions are a general problem, while almost half (47%) think it is essentially a problem for Iraq (28% offer no opinion).
On several measures, the already large divides between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon are growing even wider. For instance, in 2007, 94% of Sunnis and 57% of Shi’ites expressed confidence in Saudi King Abdullah; in 2009, 94% of Sunnis and only 8% of Shi’ites hold this view.
A similar example is evident in attitudes toward Hamas. Although it is
a predominantly Sunni organization, Hamas has grown from generally
popular among Lebanese Shi’ites in 2008 (64% favorable) to almost
universally popular in 2009 (91%), while Sunni support for the group
has gone from low (9%) to almost nonexistent (1%).
Notably, views of the US have grown more polarized, as the result of a
shift of opinion among Lebanese Sunni. Positive attitudes among Sunnis
have grown from 62% in 2008 to 90% in 2009. However, only 2% of
Shi’ites Muslims currently express a positive opinion of the US, barely
an improvement from last year’s 0%.