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June 24, 2019 11:14 am

Hatred of Israel, Homosexuality and Women’s Emancipation Are Dominant Beliefs in Arab World, New BBC Poll Reveals

avatar by Ben Cohen

Palestinians in Gaza City burning an Israeli flag during a protest. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

A clear majority of the Arab world continues to believe that Israel is the main threat in the Middle East and North Africa, a comprehensive BBC poll of 11 Arab countries revealed on Monday.

The poll — which involved interviews with over 25,000 respondents in Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria — also demonstrated that a strict social conservatism prevailed throughout the region, exemplified by a violent hatred of homosexuality.

Opposition to women holding positions of power and influence, as well as sympathy for the practice of “honor killings” — the execution of female relatives for allegedly shaming their families — remains widespread as well.

The poll, conducted for the British broadcaster by the Arab Barometer research organization, showed that residents of the Palestinian territories were more resistant to liberal democratic values than are their neighbors in several respects.

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Only five percent of Palestinian respondents — the lowest number in all the countries surveyed — regarded homosexuality as “acceptable.”

Notwithstanding a string of brutal internal wars in Arab nations over the last decade in which several million people have been killed and displaced, Israel was still held up as the greatest threat to the region in most countries.

In Lebanon, 79 percent of respondents identified Israel as the main threat, while in the Palestinian territories that figure was 63 percent. In all cases, the US came second.

Despite their geographical distance from Israel, a plurality of respondents in Morocco, Algeria and Libya all agreed that the Jewish state was a more significant threat than any other country.

Only in Iraq and Yemen did more respondents identify Iran — which has supported terrorist paramilitaries in the brutal internal conflicts in both countries — as a bigger threat than Israel.

At the same time, the overwhelming dissatisfaction with living standards in the region meant that at least one in five residents of the Arab world wished to emigrate elsewhere. Europe remained the most popular destination, although a sizable number wanted to move to North America, or to other countries in their own region. About 30 percent of Palestinians would emigrate if given the opportunity, with the number rising to nearly 60 percent in the case of Sudan.

In terms of international outlook, the poll will make comforting reading for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose popularity among Arabs remains high even as it declines dramatically in his own country, in the wake of the resounding defeat suffered by Erdogan’s AKP Party in the re-run election for the mayor of Istanbul on Sunday.

A full 75 percent of Palestinian, Jordanian and Sudanese respondents said they had a “positive” view of the Turkish Islamist leader. Overall, 51 percent of respondents across the region expressed a liking for Erdogan, compared with 28 percent for Russian President Vladimir Putin and just 12 percent for US President Donald Trump.

Although the poll showed that levels of religious observance were falling throughout the Arab world — especially in the North African countries — this has not translated into more tolerant attitudes to gay men, or to women in either public life or within the family.

Most disturbingly, in all the countries surveyed bar Sudan, more respondents responded favorably when asked about honor killings than homosexuality.

More residents of the Arab world believe that ‘honor killings’ are more acceptable than homosexuality. Image: BBC/Arab Barometer

“Acceptance of homosexuality varies but is low or extremely low across the region,” the BBC noted. “In Lebanon, despite having a reputation for being more socially liberal than its neighbors, the figure is 6 percent.”

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