The University of Maryland's Project on International Policy Attitudes headed by Steve Kull has just released the results of its latest survey of Muslim public opinion.
The survey was carried out between July and September 2008 in eight countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. The main findings should not be surprising: Muslims overwhelmingly oppose attacks on American civilians (and thus reject al-Qaeda's tactics) but overwhelmingly oppose the U.S. military presence in Muslim countries and have deep suspicions about American intentions towards the Muslim world. Despite what so many people in Washington seem to believe, most Arabs and Muslims don't seem to see the "war of ideas" as being a choice between the U.S. and al-Qaeda -- they seem perfectly capable of disapproving of both, while continuing to hold to their own fairly well-established political convictions.
Attitudes towards the use of violence largely track with last year's findings. Only 8% of Egyptians express approval of attacks on civilians in the U.S, and 11% of Jordanians. Only 7% of Egyptians express approval of attacks on U.S. civilians working in Islamic countries (15% in Jordan, somewhat alarmingly). But 83% of Egyptians approve of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq (down from 87% in 2007) and 72% of Jordanians approve. Most generally, 83% of Egyptians say that violent attacks carried out in order to achieve political or religious goals are not at all justified, and only 2% say strongly justified. In other words, very small minorities support al-Qaeda's approach while vast majorities agree with the Muslim Brotherhood-style approval of violence in areas considered to be under direct foreign military occupation (Iraq, Palestine).
What about the U.S. presence in the Gulf? 87% of Egyptians agree with the goal of getting the U.S. to withdraw forces from Islamic countries, while only 1% of Egyptians and 11% of Jordanians approve of U.S. naval forces in the Gulf? And alarmingly, 78% of Egyptians and 66% of Jordanians approve of attacks on U.S. troops (not civilians) based in the Gulf.
Views of the U.S. still reflect a great deal of suspicion and the entrenchment of the "clash of civilizations" narrative, with little evidence in the survey that U.S. strategic communications efforts had made much of a dent by the summer-fall of 2008. Favorable views of the U.S. in Egypt climbed from 3% in 2007 to 4% ... but views of bin Laden appear to have improved even more: 44% of Egyptians now have positive views, compared to 39% in 2007 (27% of Jordanian have positive views and 27% mixed). 87% of Egyptians say that the U.S. goal is to weaken and divide Islam, as do 80% of Jordanians.
Finally, on key questions of domestic governance: Does the U.S. favor democracy in Muslim countries? 37% of Egyptians say the U.S. opposes it, 42% say it supports democracy if the government cooperates with the U.S. , 8% say it supports democracy on principle. In Jordan, it's 41%, 40%, 6%. And there also still appears to be mass support for the moderate Islamist position: in Egypt, 73% would like to see shari'a play a larger role in the country, and only 10% a smaller role.