Palestinian Attitudes toward Democracy and Its Compatibility with Islam: Evidence from Public Opinion Research in the West Bank and Gaza

By Grant, Audra K.; Tessler, Mark A. | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Palestinian Attitudes toward Democracy and Its Compatibility with Islam: Evidence from Public Opinion Research in the West Bank and Gaza

Grant, Audra K., Tessler, Mark A., Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

STUDENTS OF ARAB POLITICS OFTEN mention the need to consider the orientations of ordinary men and women, the so-called "Arab street." Unfortunately, however, systematic studies of the attitudes and behavior of ordinary citizens are rare. Insights, while not necessarily inaccurate, are frequently based on anecdotal evidence and hence impressionistic. They sometimes also reflect Western stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. Accordingly, rigorous empirical research at the individual level of analysis has long been called the missing dimension in the investigation of Arab politics, and there have thus been continuing calls for more and better studies of political culture in the Arab world (Hudson 1995).

The present study responds to such calls, using data from Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), the Arab society where political attitude research is most developed. In contrast to most Arab countries, there are several research centers in Palestine that regularly conduct opinion surveys dealing with important and sensitive political issues. Among other things, these polls include questions about governance, religion, and the connections between them. Drawing upon data collected in one such survey, the present study assesses the nature and determinants of support for democracy in Palestine, giving particular attention to the role of religion in accounting for attitudinal variance and to views regarding the compatibility between democracy and Islam.


The 1980s witnessed a renewed interest in democratization in the Arab world. Confronted with mounting popular anger fueled by economic conditions, government mismanagement and corruption, and the violation of human rights, a number of Arab governments enacted programs of political liberalization. For the most part, these reforms were part of a containment strategy designed to reduce public discontent and to increase regime legitimacy at a time when calls for meaningful political change were increasingly widespread.

These reforms rarely gained momentum, however, and many of the Arab world's democratic experiments were slowed, stalled, or even abandoned altogether during the 1990s. Lisa Anderson offers a forceful expression of the pessimistic assessment voiced by many observers by the beginning of the new millennium (1999, p. 4):

The prospects for democracy seem exceptionally bleak as we survey the remnants of so many of the democratic experiments, from the spectacular crash and bum of Algeria's liberalization to Tunisia's more subtle but no less profound transformation into a police state, from Egypt's backsliding into electoral manipulation [and repression of Islamic political movements] to the obvious reluctance of Palestinian authorities to embrace human rights.

There are some partial exceptions to this depressing characterization. In Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, for example, some would argue that there is continuing progress and that it is possible to have a meaningful debate about whether the glass is half full or half empty. In the Palestinian Authority, too, there have been accomplishments as well as setbacks in the struggle for democratic governance. On the other hand, according to Freedom House, not a single Arab country qualifies as even an electoral democracy, let alone a true democracy (Karatnycky 2000; also Sivan 2000).

In any event, most of the grievances that fostered popular discontent in the 1980s remain prominent at the present time and calls for democracy are as common as ever among Arab intellectuals and others. As a Jordanian journalist recently wrote, echoing sentiments expressed by many others, "one of the leading sources of instability and political-economic distortion in the Arab world is the unchecked use of state power, combined with the state's whimsical ability to use the rule of law for its own ends" (Khouri 2000).

Advocates of democratization are concerned primarily with government accountability, and with establishing institutions and processes by which citizens can influence political leaders and press governments to be more responsive to the needs of ordinary men and women. In addition, however, some scholars contend that democracy would also enhance the prospects for peace in the Middle East. Drawing upon empirical research in International Relations, they note that democracies almost never go to war against one another and speculate that the prospects for peacefully resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and other regional disputes would be enhanced if the Arab world were to become more democratic (Gamham and Tessler 1995; Kaufman, Abed, and Rothstein 1993).


Scholars have long been interested in conditions associated with the initiation of democratic transitions and in factors that make possible the maintenance and eventual consolidation of such transitions. Among these are institutional, procedural, and structural considerations, including the existence of political parties and competitive elections, elite strategies and inter-elite bargaining, the role of political and civic associations, widespread literacy, and economic growth (Rustow 1999, p. 14).

A growing number of scholars assert that the political attitudes and values of ordinary citizens are also important. Indeed, this is not a recent discovery. Almond and Verba observed in 1963, "if the democratic to develop in new nations, it will require more than the formal institutions of democracy -- universal suffrage, the political party, the elective legislature.... A democratic form of participatory political system requires as well a political culture consistent with it... [of which] the norms and attitudes of ordinary citizens are subtler cultural components" (1963, p. 3; also Almond 1980, p. 27). Among these norms and attitudes are a commitment to freedom of expression, political tolerance, respect for competing ideas and preferences, political interest with a willingness to participate in the political process, and an attitude toward government that distinguishes respect for the rule of law from blind and uncritical deference to those in authority (Rose, Mishler, and Haerpfer 1998, p. 98).

Recent studies of democratic transitions in developing and post-Communist countries, the so-called "third wave" of democratization, have placed similar emphasis on the attitudes and values of ordinary citizens. This includes analyses by Huntington (1993) and Inglehart (2000). Inglehart writes in this vein that "democracy is not attained simply by making institutional changes or through elite level maneuvering. Its survival depends also on the values and beliefs of ordinary citizens" (p. 96).

Evidence from Latin America in support of this proposition includes a study by Mainwaring, who concludes that an important factor "that has contributed to the greater survivability of Latin American democracies revolves around changes in political attitudes, toward a greater valorization of democracy" (2000, p. 45). Chu, Diamond and Shin offer a similar assessment in their study of Korea and Taiwan, stating that the consolidation of democratic transitions requires "sustained, internalized belief in and commitment to the legitimacy of democracy among the citizenry at large" (2001, p. 122). The applicability of these conclusions to the Arab world is noted by Harik, who writes "in the long run, of course, a democratic government needs a democratic political culture, and vice versa" (1994, p. 56).

It is against this background that the present study examines the nature and determinants of Palestinian attitudes toward democracy. The analysis derives significance from the importance of the Palestinian case, where a struggle for democracy has been waged since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 and where the outcome of this struggle may also have implications for a permanent Palestinian-Israeli peace. Significance also derives from an opportunity to examine the influence of Islamic attachments on political attitudes. As noted below, the relationship between Islam and democracy has been the subject of considerable scholarly debate. Finally, the study is significant because of the dearth of empirical research on Arab political attitudes. Findings about an important Arab society may be compared to findings from research in other world areas, thereby contributing to the quest for theoretical cumulativeness.


Discussions about Arab political orientations often include questions about the influence of Islam. This is due, in part, both to the nature of Islam and to the religion's political resurgence during the last three decades. Islamic law includes numerous codes governing societal relations and organization. It guides that which is societal as well as personal, corporate as well as individual (Esposito 1991, pp. 3-5). As Voll explains, Islam is a total way of life; it represents a worldview (1992, p. 211). This is one of the reasons that popular support for Islamist movements and parties has grown significantly in recent years (Tessler 1997).

Amid these assumptions, there have long been debates about Islam's proper role in political affairs, including its compatibility with Western conceptions of democracy and governance. As noted in one recent study: "these questions have divided contemporary intellectuals in the Islamic world, like their medieval counterparts, into two main camps. There are those who hold that the question should not be phrased 'whether it is possible' but rather 'how it is possible' to remain a Muslim while acquiring new, non-Muslim values" (Abed 1995, p. 119; also Voll 1992, p. 212).

With respect issues of governance, there are indeed two schools of thought. One position holds that democracy, particularly secular democracy, and even the nation-state are Western conceptions that stand in direct contradiction to the Islamic principles, primarily because they are of human rather than divine origin. Accordingly, in the view of those who take this position, Islam "has to be ultimately embodied in a totalitarian state" (Choueiri 1996; also Lewis 1994, pp. 54-56). A clear articulation of the thesis that democracy and Islam are incompatible is provided by Kedourie in Democracy and Arab Political Culture (1994, p.5; 5-6):

The notion of popular sovereignty as the foundation of governmental legitimacy, the idea of representation, or elections, of popular suffrage, of political institutions being regulated by laws laid down by a parliamentary assembly, of these laws being guarded and upheld by an independent judiciary, the ideas of the secularity of the state, of society being composed of a multitude of self-activating groups and associations -- all of these are profoundly alien to the Muslim political tradition.

Yet others, including many Muslim intellectuals, embrace a wholly different position. They note that there is considerable variation in the interpretations of religious law advanced by Muslim scholars and theologians, and that among these are expressions of support for democracy, including some by leading Islamist theorists (Abed 1995, pp. 128-129). More generally, they point out that values associated with democracy, including tolerance, political competition, progressive innovation, and the accountability of political leaders, are well represented among traditions associated with the religion and thus entirely compatible with Islam (Esposito and Voll 1996; Hamdi 1996, pp. 81-85; Mernissi 1992). Such assessments receive institutional expression in the recently established Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). An independent, non-profit research organization, CSID cosponsored two international conferences in 2000, one at Georgetown University and the other in Algiers.

For the most part this debate focuses on issues of theology, doctrine, and historical precedent. It includes questions about the criteria for evaluating competing interpretations of Islamic law. Moreover, attention is devoted to the motivation and sincerity, as well as the qualifications and training, of those who claim to speak for Islam (al-Suwaidi 1995, pp. 87-88). Much less, however, is said about the way that Islamic conceptions and attachments influence the political attitudes and values of ordinary citizens. Further, when implications about the political orientations of ordinary citizens are proposed, it is almost always on the basis on deductive reasoning and analogy. Despite some recent studies, empirical evidence about whether and how Islam helps to shape the political views of Muslim Arab men and women is extremely rare (Tessler 2002). By helping to fill this gap, the present study sheds light both on prospects for the emergence of a democratic political culture in the Arab world and on the validit y of competing positions in on-going debates about the compatibility of democracy and Islam.


The Palestinian Authority provides a useful lens through which to examine determinants of popular attitudes toward democracy, including various Islamic orientations. While each case has its own unique features, and this certainly applies to the Palestinians, the experience of the Palestinian Authority is of general interest for at least two reasons. First, governance in the Palestinian Authority has been characterized by a mixture of democratic and non-democratic features, leading to both optimism and pessimism about prospects for a successful democratic transition. Second, Islamist movements, most notably Hamas and to a lesser extent Islamic Jihad, occupy an important and visible place in the Palestinian political arena. In both respects, the Palestinian case is similar to a number of other Arab polities.

When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, hopes were high for the emergence of a democratic political system characterized by effective state institutions, separation of powers, an independent legislature and judiciary, and a professional bureaucracy with clear obligations and functions (Shu'aybi and Shikaki 2000). Moreover, there has been at least some progress toward achieving of these goals: there is intense competition among ideologically diverse political factions; the 1996 Legislative Council elections were free and fair and debates within the assembly have sometimes been vigorous; diverse and sometimes critical political views are frequently expressed by journalists, academics, and other independent intellectuals; and the Palestinian Authority possesses a broad array of active non-governmental organizations that often function with little or no government interference. On the other hand, abuses are as prominent as accomplishments, if not more so. There exists no formal constitution, polit ical and financial corruption is pervasive, dissent has at least sometimes been suppressed, and violations of human rights are by no means unknown. So far as Islam is concerned, not only do Islamist parties participate in the formal political process, these parties, particularly Hamas, are active on university campuses, have a strong grassroots organizational base, and have enjoyed consistent albeit relatively limited popular support since 1993 (Tessler and Nachtwey 1999). Further, support for Hamas increased significantly following the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000.

There is an important struggle for democratic governance within the Palestinian Authority that should be noted. it is not the competition for political influence between nationalist and Islamist factions, as is sometimes suggested. Rather, it involves a struggle within the large and mainstream Fateh movement. PLO officials who returned to Palestine with Yasir Arafat in 1994 and now dominate the Palestinian Executive are associated with more authoritarian tendencies, whereas calls for greater democratization come mostly from political activists with grassroots institutional connections. The former are sometimes called "Tunisians," or "Outsiders." The latter are frequently described as the "Intifada Generation," the "Younger Generation," or "Insiders." While these characterizations are somewhat oversimplified, they do identify important differences within the Palestinian Authority and make clear that the issue of governance is highly contested (Robinson 2000; Shikaki 2002).

Although the views of ordinary citizens may be a factor in the outcome of this political struggle, the short-term impact of public attitudes should not be overstated. The relevant empirical literature suggests that the existence of a democratic political culture is more important for consolidating than initiating democratic transitions. At the very least, however, popular support for democracy gives encouragement to those who press for greater responsiveness and accountability on the part of Palestinian leaders and thus increases the likelihood that a successful democratic transition will eventually be realized (Shikaki 1996). Indeed, a practical contribution of precisely this kind is a major objective of the institutions conducting public opinion research in the West Bank and Gaza. They seek to valorize and give greater visibility to views of the Palestinian public in the hope of advancing the struggle for accountable government.


To explore the issues identified above, this study analyzes data from a random and representative public opinion survey conducted in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. A total of 1,200 Palestinian adults, 18 years of age or older, were interviewed on April 15-16, 1999. The face-to-face survey was carried out by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre (JMCC), an established Palestinian organization located in East Jerusalem. JMCC has been conducting opinion polls on a regular basis since 1994, using a cadre of trained interviewers and consistently refining its research methodology. Attitudes related to democracy have been one of its principal concerns (Daneels 1998). Respondents for the present study were chosen according to a stratified, multistage sampling procedure first involving the selection of households and then the selection within each household of an individual to be interviewed. Twenty households were chosen within each of 60 sampling units, which meant that no single field worker inter viewed more than 20 respondents. A predefined route using a suitable skip pattern was employed to select households. Random selection was employed to choose the respondent within each household. The refusal rate was approximately one percent.

The resulting sample appears highly representative and shows little skewness. Approximately half (52 percent) of the respondents are from the West Bank, 38 percent are from Gaza, and 10 percent are from East Jerusalem. Almost all respondents (96 percent) report that they are Sunni Muslim; only 4 percent are Christian, which is consistent with the distribution of religion reported in surveys by other Palestinian research centers. Table 1, below, shows the distribution of the sample with respect to gender, age, education, and income. Respondents having some post-secondary education may be somewhat over-represented. Otherwise, the sample appears to mirror closely the Palestinian population.

The survey instrument contains several items pertaining to democracy and democratic governance. These items are the dependent variables in the present analysis. The most directly relevant item asked respondents to identify the country that is the best model for the Palestinian Authority. It is coded according to whether or not a democratic country was selected. Twenty-three percent chose a democratic country, most frequently either Israel, the United States, or France in that order. Thirty-eight percent selected a non-democratic country, most frequently Egypt followed by Jordan and other Arab countries. The remaining respondents stated either that they did not know or that no other country could serve as a model.

A second item measured values associated with secular democracy, most notably political tolerance and respect for civil liberties. It asked respondents whether they support or oppose non-Muslims having the same legal rights as Muslims. The distribution was heavily skewed in favor of equality, with 41 percent expressing strong support, another 37 percent expressing some support, and only 6 percent expressing strong opposition. While it might appear that this item is relevant only to Muslim societies, political tolerance and a concern for equal rights and civil liberties are essential components of a democratic political culture. Thus, for example, the World Values Survey includes questions about tolerance of religious and other minorities precisely because of their relevance to democracy (Inglehart 2000).

A final item, which has a slightly different focus, asked respondents whether democracy is compatible with Islamic law. Only 24 percent said they considered that democracy and a political system based on sharia cannot coexist, whereas 60 percent see no incompatibility. The remaining 16 percent had no opinion.

These distributions are summarized in Table 2. It should be noted that the bivariate correlations among these three items are weak, suggesting that they do not measure a common conceptual dimension relating to democracy. They rather measure separate and independent dimensions. This is not altogether surprising, since past research makes a distinction between support for democratic institutions and normative orientations associated with democracy. This is reflected, for example, in a recent study of political attitudes in Eastern Europe (Rose, Mishler, and Haerpfer 1998, p. 98). Similarly, a recent analysis of World Values Survey data from seventeen countries found and maintained the distinction between support for democratic institutions on the one hand and democratic values associated with political tolerance on the other (Rohrschneider 2001). The item asking about the compatibility of democracy and Islam is not a measure of democracy per se, although it is included because of the importance and relevance of the issue about which it solicits opinion.

Regression analysis has been used to account for variance on these dependent variables, and the independent variables in the models include two measures associated with Islam. One is a measure of personal religiosity. It is composed of two highly inter-correlated items, one asking respondents how often they pray and the other asking how often they read the Quran. The second is a measure of attitudes toward political Islam. It is composed of three highly inter-correlated items, one asking whether religious leaders should play a larger role in politics, another asking whether religion should be separate from government policy, and a third asking about support for a political system based on Islamic law. Factor analysis was employed to identify and validate the items in each index; for both personal religiosity and political Islam, items loaded strongly on a common factor, which offers evidence of both reliability and validity (Marradi 1981, pp. 17-18). Inclusion of these measures in the analysis will shed light on whether and how Islamic orientations influence attitudes related to democracy at the individual level of analysis. Table 3 shows the distribution of ratings on indices created by summing responses to each set of items. Factor scores, which are more precise, are used in the regression analysis.

Another category of independent variables includes demographic characteristics. Among these are age, education, and the perceived standard of living of one's family. Two other independent variables pertain to political and economic evaluations: an assessment of the level of corruption within the Palestinian Authority and an assessment of the aggregate economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza at the time of the survey. These measures are included because research in Eastern Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere suggests that judgments about regime performance and political and economic conditions may have a significant impact on the political attitudes of ordinary citizens, including attitudes toward democracy.

A final independent variable asks about satisfaction with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Inclusion of this variable, essentially for purposes of statistical control, is important for two reasons. On the one hand, perceptions of the peace process may influence attitudes toward Israel, which in turn may affect attitudes toward Israel's democratic political system. On the other, judgments about whether or not there is progress toward peace may influence attitudes toward the Palestine Authority, which in turn may affect views about corruption and other criteria by which the PA is judged. In April 1999, 34 percent of the Palestinians surveyed were "satisfied" or "strongly satisfied" with the peace process.


Table 4 presents the results of the three regression analyses. In the first column, views about the country that is the best model for the Palestinian Authority is the dependent variable. Binary logistic regression has been employed since respondents have been categorized according to whether or not they selected a democratic country. The analysis shows that only two independent variables have significant explanatory power: personal religiosity and education. A belief that the best model is a democratic country is more likely, to a statistically significant degree, among respondents who have lower levels of personal religiosity and higher levels of education. It may be noted that a separate analysis was carried out with "Don't know/None" treated as an intermediate category of the dependent variable, along with selecting a democratic country and selecting a non-democratic country as the best model for the Palestinian Authority. The results were identical.

The second column in Table 4 presents, the results of a regression analysis in which views about non-Muslims having the same legal rights as Muslims is the dependent variable. It shows that personal religiosity, educational level, age, and perceptions of corruption within the Palestinian Authority have significant explanatory power. A belief that non-Muslims should have the same legal rights as Muslims is more common, to a statistically significant degree, among respondents who have lower levels of personal religiosity, who are better educated, who are older, and who are more likely to believe there is a high level of corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, in the third column in Table 4, views about the compatibility of democracy and Islam is the dependent variable. The analysis indicates that only support for political Islam is related to the dependent variable to a statistically significant degree. More specifically, the greater the support for political Islam the more likely respondents are to believe that Islam and democracy are compatible.

The patterns observed in Tables 4 are based on analyses of the full sample of respondents. In fact, however, these patterns may apply to some categories of respondents but not others. Similarly, some independent variables that have little explanatory power for the sample as a whole may be important in accounting for variance among a particular subset of respondents.

To explore these possibilities, and thereby to assess the demographic locus of key variable relationships, the data have been disaggregated according to sex and residence patterns and regressions have then been run for each combination of these variables taken together. Residence patterns include urban, refugee camp, and village residence, which, when combined with sex, yield six respondent categories. The results are summarized in Table 5. For purposes of parsimony, the table does not present the eighteen regression analyses but is limited to a list for each respondent category of the independent variables bearing a statistically significant relationship to each dependent variable. The direction of the relationship is also noted. In addition, the table gives the percentage of respondents in each category who believe that a democratic country is the best model for the Palestinian Authority, who believe strongly that non-Muslims should have the same legal rights as Muslims, and who believe that democracy is co mpatible with Islamic law.

Table 5 reveals notable differences among respondent categories both with respect to the extent of pro-democracy attitudes and in terms of the independent variables related to these attitudes to a statistically significant degree. Concerning the best political model for the Palestinian Authority, a democratic country is selected most frequently among men in refugee camps and in villages and least frequently among women in these same two locales. With respect to the legal rights of non-Muslims, a belief that they should be equal to those of Muslims is most common among men in cities and least common among women in refugee camps and in villages. Finally, with respect to the compatibility of democracy and Islamic law, differences among respondent categories are small and for the most part insignificant, although men and women in cities are slightly more likely than others to regard the two as compatible.

Turning to the independent variables that bear a statistically significant relationship to these attitudes, Table 5 shows that the factors influencing views about democracy and governance vary considerably from one respondent category to another. With respect to political models for the Palestinian Authority, personal religiosity is important in only one of these categories, men in villages. Similarly, education and perceived standard of living are each important in only one instance, among women in cities for the former and among men in cities for the latter.

A larger number of independent variables is strongly related to the belief that non-Muslims should have the same legal rights as Muslims, but again the pattern differs substantially across respondent categories. Lower levels of personal religiosity are associated with a belief in equal rights for Muslims and non-Muslims only among men in cities and men in villages; the perception of high levels of corruption in the PA is associated with this view among men in cities and men in refuges camps; a favorable attitude toward political Islam is associated with the same attitude about legal rights among men in villages and among women in cities; and there are similar relationships involving older age among men in villages, higher education among women in refugee camps, and a higher standard of living among women in villages.

Finally, there are only three instances in which one of the independent variables under consideration is significantly related to views about the compatibility of democracy and Islamic law. Two of these instances involve a favorable attitude toward political Islam, which is associated with the view that Islam and democracy are compatible among men in villages and women in cities. The third instance is among women in villages, for whom a belief in the compatibility of democracy and Islam is associated with the perception of high levels of corruption in the PA.


In speculating about the implications of these findings, it is important to note that the analysis is constrained by the content of the available survey items. The dependent variables are for the most part indirect measures of attitudes toward democracy. Nevertheless, they do involve pertinent and important orientations relating to issues of democratization in Muslim society, and identifying the factors by which they are influenced will therefore shed light on the dynamics of democratization in Palestine and, perhaps, other Arab polities.

Against this background, five sets of observations may be offered. First, the demographic profile of individuals who are more likely to have pro-democracy attitudes is somewhat, but only somewhat, clear and consistent. In at least some instances, pro-democracy attitudes are associated with higher education, male gender, older age, urban residence, and a higher standard of living, attributes that research elsewhere suggests tend to be associated with democratic political orientations. Moreover, in no instance has the inverse pattern been observed. on the other hand, these relationships manifest themselves in the case of only some dependent variables and for only a minority of the respondent categories when data are disaggregated on the basis of sex and residence. Thus, while there is a tendency for democratic attitudes to be more common among individuals who are in more favored social categories, and hence more established, this pattern emerges in less than half of the regression models that have been run.

Second, concerns about government corruption bear a statistically significant relationship to the dependent variable in several instances. Findings from societies experiencing democratic transitions, while not entirely consistent, offer evidence that satisfaction with government performance tends to increase support for democracy. The present study suggests, as might be expected, that in the absence of a meaningful democratic transition dissatisfaction with the regime may foster support for democratic values. Moreover, interestingly, it suggests that this is more likely to occur among men than among women. Since this pattern occurs m only a few instances, however, the more important conclusion may be that regime evaluation is less important in the Palestinian case than in other societies, presumably because of the unique political and economic situation prevailing in the West Bank and Gaza.

Observations may also be offered about the influence of Islam, a central concern of the present investigation. The most general conclusion to be drawn is that Islamic attachments have some influence on political attitudes but much less than might be expected. Nor is this influence always in the direction that might have been anticipated. On the one hand, in only three of the eighteen regressions summarized in Table 5 are higher levels of personal religiosity associated with less democratic attitudes. On the other, in the four instances where a favorable view of political Islam has explanatory power, this is associated with attitudes that are more rather than less supportive of democracy and with a belief that democracy and Islam are compatible.

Coupled with the skewed distribution of views about the compatibility of democracy and Islam, with only 24 percent expressing the view that Islam and democracy are not compatible, it seems reasonable to conclude that Islam is not the obstacle to democratization that some analysts assert. The finding of a positive relationship between support for political Islam and a belief that Islam and democracy are compatible is particularly noteworthy in this connection. Those who support political Islam, who might be expected to favor a political system that is not democratic, are actually more likely than others to believe that a political system based on Islamic law can be democratic. In addition, among men in villages and women in cities, greater support for political Islam is also associated with higher levels of political tolerance, with the view that Muslims and non-Muslims should have the same political rights. Finally, these relationships obtain when evaluations of corruption in the Palestinian Authority are hel d constant, thereby eliminating the possibility that the association between support for political Islam and pro-democracy attitudes is an artifact of preferences for factions opposed to those in power.

A fourth set of observations concerns the different findings among respondents categorized on the basis of sex and residence. The patterns observed are varied to a degree that prevents straightforward conclusions, except for the general observation that the factors which account for attitudinal variance differ as a function of sex and residence. This is not an insignificant finding, however. While most studies of political culture in the context of democratization present findings about relationships that are assumed to apply to an entire society, the present study suggests that this may be an erroneous assumption, that factors influencing attitudes among one subset of the population may not be the same as those that are most influential among another subset.

Beyond this general observation about the value of disaggregation, it may be reported that there is a slight tendency for education to have more explanatory power among women and in non-urban settings, and also for personal religiosity to have more explanatory power among men. None of these patterns occurs with a high level of consistency, however, suggesting that at most they can be advanced as possibilities deserving further investigation.

Fifth and last, it may be noted that there is not a single instance in which attitudes toward democracy are influenced by judgments about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. While Palestinians have many grievances against Israel, those with more negative views of the prospects for peace are neither more likely nor less likely than others to favor the kind of democratic political system that Israel possesses. Rather, judgments about Israel and peace and judgments about governance and democracy are independent of one another.

These findings probably raise as many questions as they answer, if not more. Clear and consistent profiles of those who are more supportive of democracy and those who are less supportive of democracy do not emerge. Rather, findings are suggestive without being compelling, indicating, again, that much more research will be needed if a coherent picture is to be developed. Further, additional research is needed to assess whether and to what extent the present study's findings are time and context dependent. Relatively peaceful conditions existed when the survey was conducted in April 1999. Very different conditions prevail three and a half years later. If similar findings are observed under these dissimilar conditions, confidence in their accuracy and generalizability will increase. In other words, the determinants of attitudes toward democracy and its compatibility with Islam would appear to be unaffected by changing historical circumstances. Alternatively, should different findings emerge, it would be necessar y to incorporate system-level contextual attributes, such as level of aggregate violence and the political situation of national leaders, into the interpretations proposed to account for observed variance. There would thus be conditionalities associated with particular patterns and variable relationships, including the degree to which Islamic attachments have an influence on attitudes toward democracy.

Nevertheless, the need for additional research notwithstanding, the present investigation makes a contribution toward assessing the relationship between democracy and Islam and, more generally, toward assembling the empirical evidence from which, hopefully, it will eventually be possible to derive generalizable insights about factors that encourage and factors that retard the emergence of pro-democracy attitudes in Palestine and other Arab societies. Empirical building blocks of this sort are particularly important given the paucity of political attitude research in the Arab world.

Table 1 
Demographic Characteristics of Palestinian Respondents 
Male                    50 percent 
Female                  50 
18-25                   30 percent 
26-35                   35 
36-45                   17 
46-54                    9 
over 54                  1 
Elementary              12 percent 
Preparatory             22 
Secondary               35 
Some college and above  29 
Well above average       3 percent 
More than average        9 
Close to the average    21 
Less than average       31 
Far less than average   34 
Table 2 
Responses to Items Pertaining to Democracy and Democratic Governance 
Democratic Country                  23 percent 
Non-Democratic Country              38 
Don't Know/None                     39 
Strongly Agree                      41 percent 
Agree                               37 
Somewhat Disagree                   16 
Strongly Oppose                      6 
Agree                               60 percent 
Not Sure                            16 
Disagree                            24 
Table 3 
Ratings on Indices Pertaining to Islam 
Very Religious                    37 percent 
Religious                         23 
Somewhat religious                27 
Not Religious                     11 
Very Favorable                    33 percent 
Somewhat Favorable                31 
Somewhat Unfavorable              23 
Very Unfavorable                  13 
Table 4 
Regressions with Attitudes Toward Democracy, the Rights of Non-Muslims, 
and the Compatibility of Islam and Democracy as Dependent Variables 
   Dependent Variables 
Belief that             Belief that Non-       Belief that 
Democratic              Muslims Should         Islamic Law 
Country Best            Have the Same Legal    and Democracy 
Model for PA (1)        Rights As Muslims (2)  Are Compatible (2) 
More religious 
         -.278          -.119                  .002 
        (7.68)***       (-2.99) ***            (.02) 
Favorable toward 
Political Islam 
         -.130          .041                   .260 
        (1.68)          (1.02)                 (3.16) *** 
Higher education 
          .238          .098                   -.008 
        (6.06)***       (2.32) **              (-.10) 
Older age 
          .004          .115                   .011 
        (0.17)          (2.76) ***             (133) 
Higher standard 
of living 
          .070          .055                   -.082 
        (0.28)          (1.29)                 (1.03) 
Much corruption in 
Palestinian Authority 
          .203          .148                   -.043 
        (2.39)          (3.49) ***             (.50) 
Aggregate economic 
Situation satisfactory 
         -.016          .064                   -.039 
        (0.13)          (1.44)                 (.46) 
Peace process making 
Satisfactory progress 
          .162          .035                   .009 
        (2.20)          (.825)                 (-.11) 
        (2.97)          (6.41) ***             (9.80) *** 
* P < .05 
** P < .02 
*** P < .01 
(1)For the binary logistic regression, the table shows B and gives Wald 
in parentheses. 
(2)For other regressions, the tables shows Beta and gives t in 
Table 5 
Proportion of Respondents with Pro-Democracy Attitudes and Independent 
Variables Related to These Attitudes to a Statistically Significant 
Degree Among Respondents Categorized by Sex and Patterns of Residence 
Dependent Variables 
            Belief that          Belief that Non- 
            Democratic           Muslims Should 
            Country Best         Have the Same Legal 
            Model for PA         Rights as Muslims 
Men in      26 percent           51 percent 
Cities      1. higher standard   1. more religious 
               of living         2. PA very corrupt 
Men in      32 percent           38 percent 
Refugee                          1. PA very corrupt 
Men in      29 percent           44 percent 
Villages    1. more religious    1. more religious 
                                 2. older age 
                                 3. favorable 
                                    political Islam 
Women in    24 percent           43 percent 
Cities      1. higher education  1. fovorable toward 
                                    political Islam 
Women in    19 percent           24 percent 
Refugee                          1. higher education 
Women in    12 percent           34 percent 
Villages                         1. higher standard 
                                    of living 
            Belief that 
            Islamic Law 
            and Democracy 
            Are Compatible 
Men in      66 percent 
Men in      55 percent 
Men in      57 percent 
Villages    1. favorable 
               political Islam 
Women in    63 percent 
Cities      1. favorable toward 
               political Islam 
Women in    56 percent 
Women in    57 percent 
Villages    1. PA very corrupt 
Note: Table 5 is based on the results of separate regression analyses 
for each respondent category. The independent variables listed are those 
related to the dependent variable at the p < .05 level. 


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Audra K. Grant is with the Office of Research, United States Department of State and Mark A. Tessler is Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association and the 2001 Middle East Studies Association meeting. The authors acknowledge with appreciation the very helpful comments of Leonard Binder.

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