October 14, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The self-styled "Islamic State" has almost no popular support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, a trio of public opinion poll commissioned by The Washington Institute has revealed. Only 5 percent of Saudis and 3 percent of Egyptians expressed a favorable opinion of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham). In Lebanon, not one Christian, Shiite, or Druze respondent expressed a positive view of ISIS, and only 1 percent of Sunnis expressed approval of the Sunni jihadist group that has overrun portions of neighboring Syria and Iraq.
The polling, directed by Institute Kaufman Fellow David Pollock, relied on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 randomly selected respondents in each nation and was conducted by a leading regional commercial survey firm. The polls have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Pollock released the new poll findings today on the website of Fikra Forum, a project of The Washington Institute that seeks to stimulate debate across borders and languages with the goal of generating ideas to produce a brighter future for Arab democrats. ("ISIS Has Almost No Support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon – But America Has Little More")
Although the low single-digit popular support for ISIS among America's regional partners in the global anti-ISIS coalition represents goods news, Pollock cautions that there is a real difference between little support and no support at all. "Since three percent of adult Egyptians say they approve of ISIS, that’s nearly 1.5 million people," Pollock wrote. "For Saudis, the five percent of adult nationals who like ISIS means over half a million people."
In addition, public rejection of ISIS and its brutal atrocities does not extend to other militant Sunni Islamist organizations. The polls found significant public support for groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. In Lebanon, support for extremist groups as well as for neighboring governments was sharply divided along sectarian lines.
What do the poll results mean for U.S. policy? Pollock suggests three key takeaways: Washington and its partners need not fear a pro-ISIS backlash among nearby Arab states; The Untied States should target its actions very narrowly against ISIS; and U.S. overtures to either Syria's Assad regime or the Iranian government risk alienating Sunni Arab publics and inflaming sectarian polarization in Lebanon.
About the Institute: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy is an independent, nonpartisan research institution that advances a balanced and realistic understanding of U.S. interests in the broader Middle East. Drawing on the expertise of its fellows, the Institute promotes informed debate and scholarly research on U.S. policy in the region.
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