In a soon to be released analysis from the Washington Institute, interesting trends on Arab Moslem attitudes concerning extremism are revealed. This enforces results from earlier surveys done and in the new research-reports, based on polling in several Moslem-majority countries, it’s clear that a majority of Moslems are not putting religious ideology on top of their priority-list.
On the contrary, mundane, every-day issues such as jobs, education and income, far surpasses ideology as seen as important. This is important because it shows that whatever support given to Daesh or other extreme and violent groups/movements, there is a larger majority of Moslems who push back against that.
The report is based on surveys done in 2014-15 (the first two years in the rise of Daesh) and then similar surveys done in the last two years.
Looking at political priorities, domestic issues clearly trump foreign ones and among foreign issues, nearby ones outranked those further afield. It’s noteworthy that among the eight countries surveyed in the 2017 poll (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain) “countering Daesh and similar terrorist groups”, was one of two foreign policy priorities in all countries.
One can also detect increased support for tough counter-measures against Jihadist ideologies. This is of special interest because shortly after 9/11, polling in these countries showed a large support for AQ (in some cases 40%). But when bombs started to go off in various Arab and Moslem countries, this support evaporated.
This is clearly borne out by the 2014-15 survey and Daesh never got the (brief) support AQ had at the beginning shortly after 9/11.
However, despite these figures, support for other, non-militant Islamists such as the MB, is still rather high. Of the four countries polled in the latest survey (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait) MB received favorable ratings from between one-quarter and one-third of the population, even in countries where MB is outlawed. And when asked if it would be "a good idea to interpret Islam in a more moderate, tolerant, or modern way," only one-fifth of the respondents said “yes”. This shows that fundamentalist Islamist organizations are not rejected, but that Daesh and AQ are too extreme even for the majority conservative populations.
The trends are such that Daesh receives only a tiny bit of support with overwhelming figures showing outright rejection. At the same time, support for more non-militant Islamists such as MB lies steady around 25-35%. Looking at the past two years, support for Daesh has plummeted even more.
Obviously – and this has been shown across the MENA-region and Europe for example – even small groups of dedicated activists can wreak havoc. And since many of these activists flocking to Daesh and AQ have in many cases come from non-militant Islamist groups and organizations, support for MB can still be a potential problem. It’s noteworthy that – as pointed out above – support for MB even in the UAE, KSA and Egypt where it is outlawed as a terrorist-organization, support remains rather high.
Overall though, the latest survey does show an increase in support for a more moderate and modern interpretation of Islam. Lebanon sticks out here where actual majorities among the three main-groups – Sunni, Shia and Christians – say they support such an interpretation.
One final result of interest from these surveys is that Arab animosity towards Iran and its regional proxies (such as Hizb’allah, the Houthis and the Assad regime) is now very nearly universal, not only among the elites, but also among the population as a whole. Also in general, this picture is less pronounced among Shia-populations such as in Lebanon.
In conclusion the good news is that support for extreme groups like Daesh and AQ (and the likes) are very low. The bad, or at least less good news, is that a majority still reject moderating and/or modernizing Islam, even if more people think so now than in 2014-15.