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Public Opinion Discourses on Democratization in the Arab Middle East

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image of Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

In contemporary political discussions, the Middle East is often lamented as democratically deficient. During the last decade, processes of democratization in the region have gained considerable momentum as accepted goals of the international community—a condition noticeably accelerated following the events of 11 September 2001 and recent revolutions in North Africa. With democratization promoted as an explicit foreign policy objective, new discourses have emerged examining democracy's efficacy when translated into these contexts. Such discourses are heavily influenced by strategic political rhetoric rather than empirical assessments; a condition with significant consequences for public perceptions and policy decisions. Public opinion polls are starting to play an important role in these emerging discourses, yet polling research in the Middle East is still in its infancy. Major reports from three large-scale polls are used to highlight existing gaps between theoretical assessments of democratic attitudes and their empirical measures. Applying a four-part definition of democratization, this article assesses the relative ability of these polls to communicate the diversity of transnational perspectives concerning democracy's tenets. It is concluded that many Arab populations are not given adequate voice since polls often over-generalize attitudes based on interests in regional measures of central tendency rather than reflecting on the diversity among individual nation states.


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