7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018

The 'Arab Spring' effect...

Nine months into the 'Arab Spring', we surveyed seven Arab countries and Iran, asking more than 6,000 respondents about their concerns and satisfaction with the pace of change taking place in their countries.

We found that an 'Arab Spring' effect had occurred, with reform and rights issues being perceived as political priorities in most countries. The polls were conducted by Zogby Research Services and jzanalytics in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran. They had a margin of error of between ±3.1per cent (Egypt) to ±4.5pc (Lebanon).

Results varied from country to country, providing a look into the unique set of concerns confronting each. We have conducted similar surveys every other year since 2001, and the differences between the 2011 poll and those preceded it were noteworthy.

In 2009, for example, in most countries the "bread and butter" issues - "expanding employment opportunities," "improving the healthcare system," and "improving the educational system" - ranked among the top four concerns - the basic priorities of a majority of Arabs.

In the mix of top concerns would be issues of particular concern to the country in question. "Ending corruption and nepotism," for example, was an issue in Egypt; while in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE "resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" scored high. Personal rights, reform and democracy almost never made it into the top tier of priority concerns.

In the recent poll, the 'Arab Spring' effect was at work across the Middle East and North Africa.

"Expanding employment" is the number one concern in every Arab country, with the exception of the UAE. But there are other issues looming large. "Ending corruption and nepotism" is a major concern in four Arab countries. And in most countries, "political reform," "advancing democracy" and "protecting personal and civil rights" have broken into the top tier of concerns in almost every country.

The one country where no change occurred was Egypt, where the top four issues of 2009 - employment, education, healthcare and corruption - remain the top four concerns of 2011. It appears the Egyptian revolt had less to do with politics and more with basic needs. Most Egyptians want a non-corrupt government that could provide for basic needs - a job, healthcare and education. It is in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE that "reform" and "rights" broke through.

Results in Iran show a political "basket case". With the exception of employment, which is the number one issue, the rest of the top tier priority concerns are democracy-related.

The only countries where advancing women's rights is a prominent concern are Tunisia and the UAE. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a top concern in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And while combating terrorism and extremism is a concern in five Arab countries, it is dead last in Iran.

How do Arabs and Iranians judge the performances of their governments? The highest satisfaction rates come in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This has historically been the case, and despite new issues being raised, it appears nothing has diminished the sense in both countries that things are on the "right track."

More worrisome are the low satisfaction levels in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, where majorities are dissatisfied with the pace of change and see their countries on the "wrong track".

While the fundamentals remain the same - people will want jobs, the ability to raise and provide for their families, be educated, have the chance to advance and receive healthcare when they need - there can be no doubt that the 'Arab Spring' has introduced a new vocabulary and new concerns into the political discourse. How governments respond will be important to watch.

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