Arab populations continue to oppose normalisation with Israel, survey shows

Alex MacDonald

Middle East Eye  /  October 6, 2020

Support for pro-democracy movements still high, though Algerians refused to back Sudanese transition.

Arab populations overwhelmingly continue to oppose recognition of Israel, despite moves by some countries this year to formally normalise relations, according to a new survey.

However, many are increasingly seeing Israel’s regional rival Iran as a greater threat to stability in the region.

The 2019-2020 Arab Opinion Index, which is based on face-to-face interviews conducted with 28,000 individual respondents across 13 Arab countries between November 2019 and September 2020, also showed a region in great anxiety about standards of living, unemployment and corruption.

According to the findings, respondents in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Mauritania – who make up the largest bloc in terms of population – viewed Israel as the primary threat their country was facing.

Neither of the countries who normalised relations with Israel this year – Bahrain and the UAE – were included in the survey, nor Oman, which is suspected to follow suit.

Conversely, people from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq said that Iran was the greatest threat.

Iraqis were the most vehement about Iran, with 50 percent of respondents saying their neighbour was the greatest threat to their country. By comparison, only six percent said Israel was the greatest threat, even though the two countries have long officially been hostile and have never enjoyed diplomatic relations.

Many respondents were also fearful of the US – the Sudanese ranked the country as most threatening to their own, at 37 percent.

When asked whether they would “support or oppose diplomatic recognition of Israel by your country” only respondents in Sudan and Saudi Arabia came in at less than 80 percent for “oppose”, at 79 percent and 65 percent respectively.

Even in the two countries that already recognise Israel – Jordan and Egypt – opposition was very high, at 93 percent and 85 percent respectively.

Support for pro-democracy protests

Across the region, support remains high for both democratic governments and separation of religion and politics, though hostility to politicians and political parties remains high.

Support for both the 2011 Arab Spring protests and the more recent pro-democracy movements across the region – particularly in Algeria and Sudan – has also remained high.

Surprisingly, although Sudanese support for the demonstrations in Algeria, which saw the ouster of longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019 was high – with 58 percent of respondents in support – this support was not reciprocated, with only 20 percent of Algerian respondents supporting similar protests in Sudan, which saw the removal of another longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, in 2019.

Seventy-four percent of Algerians said they either didn’t know or refused to answer the question.

Both trust in politicians and faith in the democratic process have continued to decrease year on year, however, with 43 percent of people in the region saying they now “completely lack confidence” in political parties.

The institution most supported across the region, by a large margin, is the military, with 63 percent of respondents expressing a “high degree of confidence” in the military, and 25 percent expressing “some extent” of confidence.

Wealth and poverty

Financial and job security varies widely across the region, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia experiencing high levels of security compared to Lebanon and Tunisia.

No Lebanese respondents said they had a “very good” assessment of the economic situation in their country, which has been devastated by both an economic crisis and a massive explosion in the capital in August, while only four percent said it was “good”.

Sixty-eight percent of Lebanese said it was “very bad”. By comparison, 69 percent of Saudi respondents said their situation was “very good”.

When asked the most important reason for the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the most popular answer given across the region was “corruption”, at 31 percent.

Alex MacDonald is a reporter at Middle East Eye and has reported from Iraq, Turkey, Qatar and Bosnia; examining the seemingly endless social and ideological struggles of the region