There’s a lot of interesting material in the Pew Foundation’s latest poll of the
Middle East, a survey that focuses on attitudes toward Islamism and
revolutionary Islamist groups. The analysis that accompanies the poll, however,
is not very good, so here is mine.
For example, in evaluating attitudes
toward Hamas and Hizbullah, Pew says that they receive “mixed ratings from
Muslim publics [while] opinions of al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are
Really? Well, in Jordan, for example, 55 percent
say they like Hizbullah (against 43% negative) while 60% are favorable (compared
to 34% negative) toward Hamas. Yet this is even more impressive than the figures
indicate. Jordan is a staunchly Sunni country whose government opposes the
ambitions of Iran and Syria.
Hizbullah is a Shi’ite group which also is
an agent of Iran and Syria. For a majority to praise that organization –
conscious of strong government disapproval – is phenomenal.
for Hamas can be more easily explained by the Palestinian connection. Yet the
difference between the two in terms of public opinion isn’t that great. And it
also suggests that support for Fatah and the Palestinian Authority must be very
low in Jordan.
Remember that the majority of Jordanians are also of
Why do people support these groups? Obviously, one
reason is that they fight Israel but sympathy for the revolutionary Islamist
aspect of Hamas and Hizbullah must be a huge factor here. Indeed, there is not
necessarily any conflict between these two aspects. The Islamists are considered
to be better fighters than the nationalists, while making war for the next
generation is more attractive to those backing Hamas and Hizbullah than is
making peace. Finally, let’s not forget that both of these groups are very
anti-Western and anti- American.
BUT NOW let’s look at al-Qaida. In
Jordan, 34% are favorable toward that terrorist group while 62% are negative.
That outcome, however, contrary to Pew’s spin on the numbers, is not at all
Remember that al-Qaida carried out the September 11 attacks.
Moreover, it has conducted terrorist attacks in neighboring Iraq and, most
important of all, in Jordan itself. The fact that one-third of Jordanians –
whose country is generally considered the most pro-Western in the Arab world –
like al-Qaida is chilling indeed. Then, too, this preference cannot be
attributed to anti-Israel sentiment.
So one-third of Jordan’s people
favor the most extremist terrorist group, even though it has murdered
Jordanians, and roughly half or more like revolutionary Islamist organization
that are clients of their own country’s nominally biggest threats. What does
that say about the hopes for moderation and stability? Turning to Egypt, “only”
30% like Hizbullah (66% don’t like), 49% are favorable toward Hamas (48% are
negative) and 20% smile (72% frown) at al-Qaida. This is more encouraging. But
remember that not only is Egypt solidly Sunni but the powerful Muslim
Brotherhood, the leaders of Islamism in Egypt, don’t like Hizbullah because it
is a Shi’ite group.
The Egyptian government has accused Hizbullah of
trying to foment terrorism in Egypt. The Egyptian government also views Hamas as
Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most
extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary
Islamists abroad. This doesn’t tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an
Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator.
IN LEBANON attitudes
divide along sectarian lines.
While 94% of Shi’ites support Hizbullah
(only 5% are negative), 84% of Sunnis are unfavorable (only 12% are positive).
Christians are 87% negative (and only 10% positive). This shows why Hizbullah
cannot just take over Lebanon itself, but of course Lebanon is largely being
taken over by Iranian-Syrian power plus its local collaborators, of which
Hizbullah is only one.
What are the Lebanese figures on al-Qaida? Three
percent positive and 94% negative! Why? Because the Christians and Sunnis don’t
want that kind of regime, while the Shi’ites, who tend to support Hizbullah’s
Islamism, knows that al-Qaida hates Shi’ites.
Finally, here’s a word on
Turkey where public opinion is the opposite of that prevailing in Jordan. In
Turkey, only 5% like Hizbullah (74% negative), just 9% like Hamas (67%
unfavorable) and merely 4% are positive (74% are hostile) on
Yet the current Turkish Islamist regime is a big supporter of
Hamas and Hizbullah. Clearly, supporting revolutionary Islamist groups – either
through Islamism or the fact they are fighting Israel – is simply not popular in
Turkey. Hamas and Hizbullah don’t do much better than al-Qaida.
Turkey’s people are more moderate than its government, while Egypt’s and
Jordan’s are more radical than theirs.
Let’s look at two other indicators
of attitudes: Islamism versus “modernizers” and attitudes toward Islamic
punishments. The first point of interest in terms of the great ideological
battle is that large proportions of people in these countries deny that such a
struggle even exists. Only 20% in Jordan, 31% in Egypt, 53% in Lebanon,and 52%
in Turkey acknowledge that there is a struggle.
Why is this? One can’t
definitively tell. I suspect they may want to avoid taking sides since they live
in countries where democracy doesn’t really prevail and authorities punish
dissenters. Or perhaps they think that the Islamists are more capable of
conducting modernization or that the current regime is sufficiently
Nevertheless, those who said that such a struggle does exist
(remember this is between only 20% in Jordan to 53% in Lebanon) took the
following sides: Jordan, 48-38 modernizers; Egypt, 59-27 Islamists; Lebanon,
84-15 modernists; Turkey, 74-11 modernists.
OTHER THAN the horrifying
figures in Turkey, which one day might be cited to explain an Islamist
revolution there, the numbers in Jordan are pretty scary as well. Almost 40%
favor an Islamist regime and they know that doesn’t mean the current
How to explain the other two countries? In Lebanon, Hizbullah
is seen as a champion of the Shi’ite community. It is supported for “ethnic”
reasons more than because people want an Islamic republic. Of course, Sunnis
have to take into account that if Lebanon were to become an Islamic republic it
would be a Shi’ite one.
As for Turkey, while the ruling AKP government
has a hard core of supporters at roughly 30%, even most of these people don’t
want an Islamist state, just a more Islamic-oriented one.
is the attitude toward Islamic punishments.
Again, the outcome in Egypt
and Jordan is very revealing. In Egypt, 82% favor the punishment of stoning for
those who commit adultery, 77% would like to see whippings and hands cut off for
robbery and 84% favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his
I would expect that these attitudes don’t differ much from
public opinion in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.
The figures for Jordan are
roughly the same: 70% (stoning), 58% (whipping/amputation), 86% (death for
Again, the numbers for Lebanon and Turkey are quite different:
Lebanon, 23% (stoning), 13% (whipping/amputation), 6% (death for converts);
Turkey, 16% (stoning); 13% (whipping/amputation), 5% (death for converts). Yet
Turkey and Lebanon are ruled by regimes which are in the Islamist camp, that is,
they view themselves as close to the Iran-Syria- Hamas-Hizbullah
What all of this analysis shows is that a future Islamist
revolution in Egypt and Jordan is quite possible. So overwhelming is the support
for this movement that there is nothing the West can do except ensure the
current governments remain in power. As for Lebanon, there is a strong basis for
resisting incorporation into the Iran-Syria empire, and in Turkey – where there
are free elections – the current regime might well be
Remember that Egypt, Jordan and other Arab governments,
notably Saudi Arabia, are so opposed to Iran not only because they hate that
country’s non-Arab, Shi’ite, radical Islamist standpoint, but also since they
fear its growing power will set off revolutions within their own
The bottom line is that in all four of these countries the
radical Islamist side is winning. And the West is basically asleep in
recognizing that threat.The writer is director of the Global Research in
International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of
International Affairs Journal and Turkish