Good News about Public Opinion in the Persian Gulf

August 12, 2021 | David Pollock
About the author: David Pollock is the Kaufman fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Fikra Forum blog and the Arabic website.

A leading expert on public opinion in the Arab world, David Pollock has recently supervised a vast survey of citizens of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The results are both encouraging and surprising:

The first crucial finding is simply that people are willing to speak their minds, even on controversial matters, at least in private.

[Most] unexpected is the finding that the mid-May armed conflict between Israel and Hamas has had little effect on attitudes toward either party. In a previous poll, taken in November 2020, around 40 percent in each country backed the Abraham Accords with Israel, with almost as many also accepting “business or sports contacts with Israelis.” Those numbers hardly budged at all in this latest poll, taken just a few weeks after the Gaza hostilities ended.

More specifically, when asked to pick their top two priorities for U.S. policy in their region, respondents are about evenly divided among the four options offered. Only around a quarter pick “pushing for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” as their top option, while approximately equal percentages opt for other objectives: containing Iran, ending the wars in Yemen and Libya, or—more surprisingly—“promoting human rights and democracy.”

Regarding the even more sensitive internal issues of political Islam, the data show a similarly moderate trend over time. The past seven years show a slow but steady uptick in the percentages agreeing with this assertion: “We should listen to those among us who want to interpret Islam in a more moderate, modern, and tolerant way.” In ascending order, the numbers today stand as follows: the UAE, 33 percent; Saudi Arabia, 39 percent; and Bahrain, a whopping 51 percent.

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