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Religion, Religiosity and the Place of Islam in Political Life: Insights from the Arab Barometer Surveys

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This paper explores the nature and determinants of attitudes toward the political role of Islam held by ordinary citizens in the Arab world. Based on results from nationally representative surveys carried out in seven Arab states during 2006-2007, it engages the pervasive debate about Islam and democracy—showing that the significant divide is not between those who favor democracy and those who favor Islam, but between those who favor secular democracy and those who favor a political system that is both democratic and Islamic in some meaningful way. Furthermore, this analysis finds that the civic values and predispositions of individuals who favor a political role for Islam are overwhelmingly similar to those of individuals who favor a separation of religion and politics. The paper also finds little consistency in the factors that incline individuals towards support for political Islam in the different countries surveyed. Most importantly, this analysis concludes that there is little or no incompatibility between Islam and democracy in the public mind and that a proper understanding of the reasons and ways that Muslim Arab publics think about governance and the political role of Islam is possible only if attention is paid to the particular political and societal contexts within which attitudes are formed.

Affiliations: 1: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States

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