The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has published a fascinating poll on attitudes to religion and politics in five North African countries (Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco). It reveals wide differences between the countries in political and religious attitudes – Tunisia being by far the least religious and most liberal, and Libya the most religious and conservative. There are also some depressingly familiar commonalities – particularly conspiracy theories about the creation Daech/IS.
Tunisia is, of course, the only democracy among these states, and the one in which the insurrections of the ‘Arab Spring’ best achieved its political aims. Whether its liberalism and lower levels of religiosity is the product or the driver of democratic change is open to debate. What the data does reveal is the variegated character of the region, and the need for more nuance in talking of ‘Muslim attitudes’. A few of the results from the poll:
National and religious identity
With the singular exception of Tunisia, in all the countries Islamic identity matters more than national identity. Almost no-one identifies as Arab. Respondents were asked whether whether they saw themselves more as Muslim (or Jew or Christian), citizen of the nation, Arab, or another identity:
Separation of religion and politics
In all the countries, even the most deeply religious ones, majorities agreed with the idea of the separation religion and politics:
|Fully agree||Somewhat agree||Total for separation of religion & politics||Somewhat disagree||Fullly disagree||Total against separation of religion & politics|
It is worth observing that there appears to be a higher majority in all these countries for the separation of religion and politics than there is in the USA (according to some polls, at least) for the separation of church and state.
And with the exception of Morocco, majorities in all countries disapproved of the intervention of imams into politics. Respondents were asked whether they supported imams intervening in politics:
|Totally support||Somewhat support||Total for imams engaging in politics||Somewhat oppose||Totally oppose||Total against imams engaging in politics|
The role of sharia
But we should be careful how we interpret the above results. For a while a majority want a separation of religion and politics, the majority in all the countries, again with the singular exception of Tunisia, want sharia to be the sole inspiration for the law:
|Fully agree||Somewhat agree||Total for sharia as the sole source for the law||Somewhat disagree||Totally disagree||Total opposed to sharia as the sole source for the law|
Again with the exception of Tunisia, there is widespread denial of religious extremism. Respondents were asked to what degree religious extremism was an issue in their country:
|Great extent||Some extent||Little extent||Non-existent|
Respondents were asked how much danger their country faced from religious extremism. Again, Tunisians stood out, being the most worried:
|Great danger||Some danger||Little danger||No danger|
There was universal hostility to Daech/IS (the greatest degree of support, in Algeria, was just 2.8%), but there was widespread support (including in Tunisia) for the idea that the USA was responsible for creating the group. Large numbers in Tunisia and Libya blamed Israel, but virtually no one in Algeria, Morocco or Egypt did. Respondents were asked ‘which country was behind the creation of the Islamic State (Daech)?’
The photo is of the Hassan II mosque, Casablanca.