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UAE 'can play crucial role in improving relations with West'

Investments in culture and knowledge will go a long way towards changing western attitudes about the region says Gallup centre analyst.

By focusing on global issues, the UAE and Gulf nations can play a crucial role in improving relations between the West and the Muslim world, the head of the new Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre said yesterday.

Dalia Mogahed, a senior analyst and director of the centre, said investments in culture and knowledge would go a long way towards changing western attitudes about the region.

"They are offering the next generation of solutions, things like Masdar city," she said on the sidelines of a lecture series held by American University of Sharjah.

By becoming a "source of knowledge", the Gulf could place itself as a region that offered solutions, she added.

The lecture series ran alongside a three-day exhibition of student projects on co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Ms Mogahed presented the findings of the centre's first report, which calls on western governments to focus on the Middle East to improve relations with Muslims worldwide.

The report was released in November. It found that although the Middle East and North Africa accounted for only 15 to 20 per cent of all Muslims, it had a huge influence on Muslims globally.

Ms Mogahed said the region had a "special role" to play in bridging misconceptions between the West and Muslim countries.

The report found that 61 per cent of Muslims in the Mena region described relations between Muslims and the West as important, the highest in the world. "There is also a special focus," she added. "This is where there is the most need, as well as most receptivity to efforts of dialogue."

When asked what could improve relations, Muslims' most common reply was "respect Islam". Most respondents, 72 per cent, felt refraining from desecrating the Quran or Islam's religious symbols was a show of respect. For more than half (52 per cent), that meant treating Muslims fairly in policies that affected them.

While Ms Mogahed said it was too soon to tell what kind of impact the report would have, its findings have been presented to policymakers in the UAE, Lebanon and various US government bodies. "We're still just rolling out the information," she said.

Gallup surveyed 123,000 people in 55 countries, including the UAE, between 2006 and 2010. The report is part of a series that will expand on the findings of Who Speaks for Islam? a 2008 book exploring the relationship between Muslim societies and the West.

mdetrie@thenational.ae

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