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Wed 2 Feb 2011 01:57 PM

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Arabs would take democracy over state-backed wealth, says survey

Though Gulf is unlikely to see Egypt-style protests thanks to higher standard of living

Arabs would take democracy over state-backed wealth, says survey
SURVEY RESULTS: A large majority of Arabs have told an opinion poll they would prefer to live in a democratic state, rather than an autocracy that allowed them to get rich (Getty Images)

A large majority of Arabs have told an opinion poll they would prefer to live in a democratic state, rather than an autocracy that allowed them to get rich.

The poll followed a recent televised Doha Debate where 63 percent of the mainly-Arab audience said they'd choose free elections over state-subsidised wealth.

It also revealed a discrepancy between the mindset of Arabs in the Gulf and those in the rest of Middle East region.

Although respondents in the Gulf were more ready than other Arabs to label their states “undemocratic,” more than 40 percent still said they would vote for the ruling family.

Tim Sebastian, the BBC journalist who chairs the Debates, said he thought the Gulf’s wealthy quality of life and low levels of unemployment among nationals would keep it from exploding in the same vein as Tunisia, Egypt and now Jordan.

“I don’t think there’ll be the same response – the oil and gas companies in the region have given their populations a different standard of living, so there’s not the same spark for protest,” told Arabian Business.

 “Our polls in the region indicate that people want more in the way of free speech and participation. So there is something for the leaders in the region to think about very carefully.”

The poll also revealed that less than a third of Arabs believe they live in a democratic state, with 42 percent saying they don't – and 27 percent rating their country as politically neutral.

The Doha Debates –YouGov poll canvassed more than 1,000 people in 17 Arab countries.

“The standards of living [in the GCC] are very different,” Sebastian said, quoting an old adage – “people vote with their wallets.

In the rest of the Arab world, “people only dream of [this high] standard of living.”

He said it would be interesting to watch the reaction of the Yemeni people, who have staged smaller-scale protests of their own this week.

“The average age in Yemen is 17 and a half,” Sebastian said. “When you’re 17 and a half, you’re going to be swayed by what you see on TV, by crowds enjoying themselves in a square in the heart of the Arab world in Egypt.”
The poll showed that Arabs in North Africa and the Levant had much stronger support for democracy than in the Gulf. It also said that one-third of GCC Arabs would support moderate Islamist groups, while 20 percent would vote for independent candidates.

In contrast, 50 percent polled in the rest of MENA would back independents.

In a major contradiction, the poll found that two thirds of Arabs would choose life in communist China instead of India, with its multi-party democracy.

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Omar Shamma 9 years ago

“I don’t think there’ll be the same response – the oil and gas companies in the region have given the populations a different standard of living, so there’s not the same spark for protest,” told Arabian Business.

Surely this must be a typo, otherwise it means that oil & gas companies rather than countries are in control. I hope not!

indian 9 years ago

Why you are discussing India here? What's the relation between India and the recent uprises in the Arab world? India is the world's largest democracy. How can you compare China or Arab countries to India?

ik 9 years ago

Of what use is wealth if you are not free.