Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

The Civic Culture of the Arab World: A Comparative Analysis Based on World Values Survey Data

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

The Civic Culture of the Arab World: A Comparative Analysis Based on World Values Survey Data

Article excerpt

The current study attempts to estimate the development of civil society in the Arab World by using comparative opinion survey data based on the author's evaluation of the World Values Survey.1 The findings are presented in the short and abridged way of a scholarly journal article. The more detailed results of the study's multivariate analyses are shared in the open access appendix documentation, available for free on the internet for the interested specialists.2

The World Values Survey (WVS), which began in 1981, consists of nationally representative surveys using a common questionnaire conducted in approximately 100 countries-which make up some 90 percent of the world's population. The WVS has become the largest non-commercial, cross-national, time series investigation of human beliefs and values ever conducted. As of the writing of this article, it includes interviews with almost 400,000 respondents. The countries included in the WVS project comprise practically all of the world's major cultural zones.3 In each of the analyses presented herein, roughly 68 percent of the entire population of the Arab League is covered. Thus the "political culture" of the Arab World is evaluated by comparative analysis, based on the representative opinion surveys in the countries themselves.4

While the first "wave" of the WVS project (1981-1984) did not include a single country with a majority Muslim population, Turkey was added to the 1990-1994 survey, and the 1995-1998 survey already included the following member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The successive surveys of 1999-2004, 2005-2009, and 2010-2014 included many Arab countries:

1999-2004: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia

2005-2009: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco

2010-2014: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Tunisia

This provided answers to questions such as, "Does the subjective feeling of health affect attitudes on democracy in the Arab World differently from the effects to be established for the global sample?" In this way, the WVS has become one of the most important sources of information of comparative social science on the Arab countries. For security experts around the globe, it could become not only a database for advanced statistical analysis, but also a vital source for "open source intelligence."5 Never before in the history of social science could one compare in this way the opinions of the Arab world and their socioeconomic and sociocultural motivations with those of other countries. It allows us to explore answers to such questions as whether the acceptance of violence against other people is dependent on religious beliefs and how this relates to income, education, and social class.

Since the inclusion of Arab countries in the WVS, numerous far-reaching and politically relevant empirical conclusions about "Arab political culture" and "Muslim political culture" have been drawn. They have received enormous scholarly attention, especially since the events of September 11.6 According to Mark Tessler, a leading researcher contributing to these perspectives, Islam appears to have less influence on political attitudes than is frequently suggested by students of Arab and Islamic society.

Religious orientation bears a statistically significant relationship to political orientation in only 5 of the 22 instances investigated by Tessler in his groundbreaking article published in 2002.7 Islam should not be "reified," Tessler notes, when attempting to explain Arab political orientation. He adds that support for democracy is not necessarily lower among those individuals with the strongest Islamic attachments. Tessler also challenges the claim that Islam discourages the emergence of political attitudes conducive to democracy. Another pattern discerned by Tessler is that support for political Islam and religious guidance in public affairs has little explanatory power for democratic orientation. …

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