According to a survey of 3,000 adult Tunisians, fully 76 percent believe that the Arab Spring was for democracy and economic prosperity; only 9 percent say it was for the establishment of an Islamic government. (Credit: Freedom House/Flickr)

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Religious tolerance strong in birthplace of Arab Spring

Public attitudes in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, show strong support for secular politics and religious moderation and tolerance, a new survey shows.

The findings help explain the political agreement just reached between Islamists and members of secular groups to form a new Tunisian coalition government.

The survey is part of the Cross-National Analysis of Religious Fundamentalism Study, a systematic study of religious, liberal, and other cultural values in seven Middle Eastern countries with Muslim majority populations: Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

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“Religious tolerance is stronger in Tunisia than in the other six countries we’ve studied,” says Mansoor Moaddel, the principal investigator of the study who is affiliated with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and the University of Maryland.

The results come from face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of approximately 3,000 Tunisian adults.

“But despite public support for the kinds of values that are the basis of American democracy, attitudes towards Americans, while more favorable than in other Middle Eastern countries, have much room for improvement,” says Moaddel, principal investigator of the study.

Key findings of the survey

  • Fully 76 percent believe that the Arab Spring was for democracy and economic prosperity; only 9 percent say it was for the establishment of an Islamic government.
  • More than 60 percent say that current political leaders make them upset or angry and fully 86 percent say that government corruption is common.
  • A majority of respondents say that life in Tunisia is better now than it was before the revolution.
  • More than 60 percent say the most important obligation for Tunisians is to excel in science and technology, compared to 18 percent who identify the top priority as applying sharia law.

Compared to the people of other countries studied, Tunisians are much more likely to say that they would like to have Americans as neighbors. Along with Pakistani and Turkish respondents, they are much less likely than Egyptians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Saudis to support attacks on US civilians working for American companies in Islamic countries.

A major division in value orientations exists between Tunisians, Lebanese and Turkish, who are more liberal, and Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Saudis, who are more conservative.

The US Office of Naval Research, Africom, MITRE, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan, and Göettingen University supported the research.

Source: University of Michigan

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