Pew survey: Middle East Muslims support democracy, Islam in politicsBy Laura Koran, CNN
(CNN) –Just as an Islamist president takes office in Egypt, a major survey shows that most Muslims in nations in or close to the Middle East want both democracy and a strong role for Islam in politics and government.The survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, finds that most people in many predominantly Muslim nations remain optimistic that democracy can succeed in the Middle East, more than a year after the Arab Spring began sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.Conducted in six countries between March 19 and April 20, the survey found that a majority of people in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan believe that democracy is the best possible form of government, as does a 42 % plurality in Pakistan.In Lebanon, where support for democracy is strongest, 84% of people surveyed said they preferred democratic governments to nondemocratic ones, a preference that was pronounced across religious groups.Even among Pakistanis, who expressed the weakest support for democracy, only 17% said that nondemocratic systems of government are sometimes preferable.The study also showed that Muslims in and around the Middle East believe that Islam has a major role to play in politics and government. Majorities in Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt believe that laws should strictly follow the Quran.Support for strict Islamic law was lower in Lebanon, Turkey and Tunisia, but big pluralities in the latter two said they wanted the values and principles of Islam to be reflected in their laws to some degree.When the importance of having democratic government was weighed against the need for a strong economy, support for democracy weakened.Majorities in Pakistan, Jordan and Tunisia said that having a strong economy is more important than having a democratic government, while Egyptians were evenly split on the question. Of the six countries surveyed, only those in Lebanon and Turkey gave a preference for democracy.The survey found that people in the countries surveyed have largely negative assessments of their economic situations but that they are generally optimistic that democracy will spread in the region.When it comes to Islam, majorities in five of the countries surveyed reported that Islam already plays a large role in their political systems. In Egypt, that figure jumped from 47 % to 66% in the past year, even though the poll was conducted before Islamist President Mohamed Morsy recently took office.Only the Lebanese did not see Islam as an important player in political life. However, those perceptions varied significantly across religious communities, with 81% of Shia Muslims believing that Islam plays a role in government, compared with 53% of Sunni Muslims and 21% of Christians.The surveys are based on face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates and included sample sizes of at least 1,000 people in each of the 6 countries. Margins of error ranged from 4.2% to 5.2%.
Support for Legal Influence of Quran
Broad majorities in Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt believe their nations’ laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran, including 82% in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, respondents in Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon are less likely to endorse a dominant role for Islam. Only about two-in-ten in each country believe laws should be based strictly on the Quran. Rather, a majority in Tunisia and a plurality in Turkey say the law should follow the values and principles of Islam but not strictly follow the teachings of the Quran.
Among the Lebanese, attitudes vary greatly by religious group. While a majority of Shia Muslims (57%) prefer the law to follow the principles of Islam, Sunni Muslims are split between this position (36%) and the belief that the Quran should play no role (38%). Most Lebanese Christians (63%) say the law should not be influenced by the Quran at all.
Islam Plays a Large, Positive Role
Across five of the six countries, majorities say that Islam currently plays a large role in the political life of their country. More than eight-in-ten in Tunisia believe Islam has a major influence on their politics.
Similarly, more than six-in-ten in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon say Islam plays a large role in politics. In Lebanon, opinion varies considerably by religious affiliation – three-quarters of Christians say Islam plays a large role, compared with 54% of Sunni Muslims and 41% of Shia Muslims.
Jordan is the only country surveyed where a majority says Islam has a small role in government. Just 31% believe Islam plays a large role.
Among those who say Islam has a major influence, majorities in Tunisia, Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey say this is a good thing.
In Jordan – where most respondents believe Islam is not influential in politics – eight-in-ten see this small role for Islam as negative for their country.
Overall, the Lebanese are more divided in their evaluations of Islam’s influence, though attitudes differ greatly by religious group. Among those who believe Islam plays a large role in Lebanese politics, Shia Muslims (81%) are much more likely to say this is a good thing than either Sunni Muslims (53%) or Christians (21%).
In Lebanon, young people are less likely to see Islam’s political influence as positive. Only 37% of 18-to-29 year-olds embrace a significant role for Islam in politics, meaning they either believe Islam plays a large role and say this is a good thing or believe it plays a small role and say this is bad. In contrast, 51% of those age 50 and older say the same.