x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bridges built over the Arab Spring

Relations between Muslim world and West more assured.

ABU DHABI // Several Arab nations that saw protests and revolts this year also began to view relations between the Muslim world and the West in a more positive light, a new survey by Gallup has found.

This and other findings came from the 45-country Muslim-West Perceptions Index released by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre (ADGC) yesterday.

It assigned number values to respondents' answers to four survey questions to create a 0-100 index of how positively European, North American and Muslim-majority countries viewed Muslim-West relations.

The biggest jump over the past year, of 12 points, came from Tunisia (from 63 to 75) and Bahrain (from 55 to 67). The next highest increase, of 8 points, occurred in Egypt (from 46 to 54) among other countries.

"There is evidence that better relations between Muslims and the West may have some roots in the Arab Spring," the ADGC director Dalia Mogahed said in a presentation, cautioning that this finding remained preliminary.

"The revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring," the report stated, "seems to have made majority-Muslim countries more aware of their shared aspirations with Western societies and less focused on what divides them."

Respondents were asked if they: felt it was important for Muslim and Western societies to get along; believed Muslim societies respected western societies, and vice versa; and viewed interaction between the two as beneficial.

Each answer was assigned 1 for a positive answer and 0 for a negative answer, and the four numbers were averaged into an overall figure between 0 and 1, which was multiplied by 100. All figures from one nation were averaged to give the country's overall score on the index.

The countries most likely to view Muslim-West relations positively tended to be poor, uneducated and dependent on the West for aid, the report found.

The highest scorers were Senegal (88), Mauritania (84), Mali (82), Guinea (81) and Burkina Faso (76).

In these countries, all within the top quartile, less than 1 in 4 people had attended high school and nearly 2 in 3 said it was difficult to get by on their income.

The next set of countries that viewed Muslim-West relations positively were oil-rich Gulf states, which trade with the West. These included Oman (74), Qatar (73) and the UAE (69).

“Not only do countries that depend on the West for aid but also those who look to the West as a trade partner have some of the most positive views of the relationship,” Ms Mogahed said.

Those that viewed Muslim-West relations positively also tended to have high views of the US leadership and their own near-term prospects. By contrast, other factors often believed to impact such views – such as religiosity or GDP per capita – turned out not to show correlations.

“If we look at the views of Muslim-West relations, they aren’t so much driven by the kinds of things we expect or hear about,” Ms Mogahed said.

“The only two things that were significant were how people in general, even westerners, felt about the leadership of the United States and how they felt their lives would be in five years.”

Although respondents in the UAE had a high index score (69), the Emirates gave a relatively negative response to one of the four questions on which the index was based. When asked if the West respects the Muslim world, one third (33 per cent) said yes and one half said no (51 per cent), making it the 35th most positive of 49 countries listed.

By contrast, when asked if whether it was important for Muslim and western societies to get along, far more said yes (84 per cent) than no (12 per cent).

Even more said that Muslim societies respected the West (89 per cent versus 6 per cent who said they did not), and most agreed that interaction between the two sides was a benefit (70 per cent) rather than threat (24 per cent). For these questions, the UAE ranked 13th, 9th and 10th, respectively, in positivity.

chuang@thenational.ae