Assume the Position

Saturday, June 04, 2005
Arab Opinion or Wishful Thinking?

I tried to find more information about the Al Arabiya "Opinion Survey of the Arab Street 2005," as presented at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, after Instapundit mentioned James Dunnigan's StrategyPage article based on two of the questions.

What do Arabs really think about the problems that afflict them, and how is this related to the issues Islamic terrorists are fighting and dying (and killing) for? A recent "Opinion Survey of the Arab Street 2005" by Al Arabiya news network provides some interesting answers. The survey sought to see what Arabs thought about the relative lack of economic progress in the Arab world. In answer to the question, “What is stalling development in the Arab world?,” 81 percent chose "Governments are unwilling to implement change and reform", 8 percent citing "The ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict," 7 percent "Civil society is failing to convince governments", and 4 percent chose "Terrorism".

Another question, "What is the fastest way to achieve development in the Arab world?", had 67 percent choosing "Ensuring the rule of law through justice and law enforcement", 23 percent chose "Enhancing freedom of speech", and 10 percent chose "Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict".

From an Al Arabiya (United Arab Emirates) press release, the survey seems to have been a call-in/internet poll of Al Arabiya viewers (emphasis added):

'We offered our viewers the chance to respond to a variety of questions dealing with various sociopolitical, cultural and economic issues that they consider of priority to them in developing and spurring change in the region and we are very pleased with the outcome of our joint effort with The World Economic Forum (WEF)', Nakhle Al Haj, Director of News and Current Affairs at Al Arabiya explained.

Al Haj added, 'The views expressed by our viewers will be considered as part of the overall agenda that will be discussed during the forum. We hope that this will bring the views and aspirations of the public closer to decision-makers and legislators so that the World Economic Forum succeeds in discussing issues of direct relevance to the Arab masses.' He also pointed out that three viewers will be randomly chosen as winners of a trip to the Dead Sea to take part in the WEF event.

Arab audiences were given the chance to express their opinion on a series of pressing sociopolitical, economic and cultural issues that matters most to them and to pinpoint the issues they consider most urgent in supporting growth in the Arab region and to fuel development and progress in a region that is currently witnessing a lot of change.

Running one question for each day for eleven days starting Sunday, April 17, 2005, the public was given a chance to vote by choosing one of 3 options to submit their answers: through an IVR number, SMS or via the site.

In the Daily Star (Lebanon), Rami Khouri's fairly comprehesive article about the WEF meeting provides another bit of information on the poll (emphasis added):

During the meeting here, over 700 participants in the Town Hall meeting Saturday identified issues of concern in the region and concrete action steps to address them. Electronic voting was used to capture opinions, and was compared against the results of an Al-Arabiya TV-WEF survey in Arabic of almost 3,000 separate television viewers across the region.

The aim was to see if the views of the "elite" at WEF coincided with "street" sentiments in the region. The results showed that the two were broadly in sync with each other.

That "almost 3000" could be the total response of self-selected viewers over 11 days, and the question-a-day methodology practically guaranteed very few respondents answered more than one question. Essentially, there may only be around 300 individual respondents to each question with minimal overlap between questions.

Whether the poll accurately reflects the "Arab Street" or not, here are the results. (There are only 10 questions; maybe the WEF dropped one or Al Arabiya asked the same one twice.)

1. What is stalling development in the Arab world?

  • Governments are unwilling to implement change and reform 81%
  • The ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict 8%
  • Civil society is failing to convince governments 7%
  • Terrorism 4%

2. What should governments do for a better economy?

  • Provide the appropriate conditions for investment in education and healthcare 53%
  • Give complete freedom to the private sector without any interference 40%
  • Own and manage economic institutions 7%

3. What is the top priority for developing education in the Arab world?

  • Update the current curricula to align them with modern economic requirements 78%
  • Fight illiteracy 20%
  • Current educational programmes are sufficient 2%

4. What is preventing you from political participation?

  • Lack of confidence in political parties 61%
  • Fear of oppression 27%
  • Social traditions and culture 12%

5. What can enhance transparency in Arab institutions?

  • Decent and independent judiciary systems 45%
  • Strong parliaments 31%
  • More freedom to the media 24%

6. How can the private sector contribute to the process of change in the Arab world?

  • Actively participate in the drafting and implementation of national plans 41%
  • Increase investment in the Arab economies 41%
  • Lobby government for faster implementation of reforms 18%

7. What is preventing the establishment of an Arab common market?

  • Official bureaucratic procedures 43%
  • External pressure from fear of Arab unity 42%
  • Distrust in its feasibility 15%

8. What is the most important factor that would improve your daily life?

  • Improving work conditions and job security 47%
  • Ensuring equal opportunities in education and employment 47%
  • Accessibility to social assistance for you and your family whenever needed 6%

9. What is the fastest way to achieve development in the Arab world?

  • Ensuring the rule of law through justice and law enforcement 67%
  • Enhancing freedom of speech 23%
  • Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict 10%

10. Arab media contributes to promoting a positive image of Arab women

  • I disagree 58%
  • I agree 27%
  • I do not know 15%

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.