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A Gallup Poll on Arab men and women and rights, religion, and rebuilding

Omer Karasapan's picture

World Bank | Arne HoelA recent poll from Gallup (Summer 2012) entitled “After the Arab Uprisings: Women on Rights, Religion, and Rebuilding" makes for interesting reading and provides surprising results. While there are many commonalities among the Arab countries surveyed (Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen), some of the findings also underline  significant differences.  This  leads to some surprising poll results as the questions address  broader terms like religion, the Sharia, gender equity, etc.

In terms of the Arab Spring, it is instructive to note that in Egypt 82% of men and 75% of women supported the revolution. Of those who responded positively to the question of whether they had personally participated in the protests, 30% of the participants turned out to be women. In all the countries,  respondents felt they were better off in 2010 than in 2011 – except for Egypt where most thought there was an improvement over 2010. Ofcourse, this was polled before the most recent downward spiral in Syria with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) declaring a state of civil war in Syria as of mid-July 2012.

On a more positive note, respondents in all countries thought their lives would be better in 5 years. In Egypt, almost equal number of men and women agreed that the economy, jobs, affordable food, and lack of security, in that order, were the most pressing problem facing their families. However many more women voiced their concerns about safety when asked about going out in the evening. On the issue of foreign aid, Egyptian men and women did not favor receiving aid from the US and the EU, but the majority of men and women welcomed support from Arab governments and in surprisingly robust numbers, from International Institutions.

The poll notes that while 79% of Egyptian men and 86% of Egyptian women believe that women should have the same legal rights as men (numbers similar to Bahrain), 56% of men in Libya (67% for women) and 53% in Yemen (68% for Women) believe so. The difference is more striking in the case of Tunisia where only 59% of men believe in equal legal rights versus 87% of women. However, in all five countries, the percentages believing in equal access to education are in the high 80s or mid-90s.

After this question though, things get a bit more complicated as respondents provide results that seem to be at odds with a broad - if at times a thinmajority supporting equal legal rights. 

When it comes to working outside the home, 71% of Egyptian men and 89% of Egyptian women respond positively to the statement, "Women should be allowed to hold any job for which they are qualified outside the home." These numbers are only exceeded by Bahrain where 85% of the men and 92% of the women agree with this statement. By contrast, only 64% of Syrian men agree with this statement and, surprisingly, just 58% of Syrian women. In Tunisia 67% of men and 89% of women agree. Yemen's numbers are 59% for men and 87% for women, while Libya's numbers are significantly lower.   

A surprising set of results emerges when respondents are asked to respond to the question of whether "Women should have the right to initiate a divorce".  In Egypt, 71% of men and 86% of women agree with this statement - by far the highest numbers responding favorably. By contrast, in Syria only 28% of men and 32% of women respond favorably, or Libya where 26% of men and 40% of women agree, while there is a clustering of positions by gender inTunisia and Yemen on this issue-- around 50% for men and 80% for women.  

Another interesting finding is that when it comes to the issue of divorce, those who see religion as an important part of their lives are more likely to vote in the affirmative on the issue of women's right to initiate divorce.  Across all five countries, for those who see religion as "not important", 46% of respondents agree on women's right to initiate divorce, while 51% do not. Among those who see religion as important, 69% agree, while 28% do not.

When it comes to the role of Sharia as a source for new legislation, 50% of Egyptian men and 44% of women thought that Sharia should be the sole source of legislation,second only to Yemen where 68% of men and 58% of women thought the same. These two countries were followed by Libya where 39% of men and 32% of women agreed. Numbers in Syria and Tunisia for both men and women ranged between 15 to 20%. The Sharia as just one of the building blocks underpinning legislation scored 30 to 40% approval rates for both men and women in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. The numbers in Tunisia were 66% for men and 56% for women. The question was not asked in Bahrain. Also, those who thought that Sharia should not be a source for legislation polled in very small numbers across all the surveyed countries.

These numbers provide some insights into our countries,but there is a wealth of information to look at further  in the document. I think it provides interesting insights on the Region.  What do you think?


Submitted by Anonymous on
I really think there is something not reliable in the Gallup's survey (GS).

I was comparing the results of the GS with those provided by the Pew Research center (2012, hereafter PRC) and there are many differences (in particular, for the two countries I am mostly interested to, that is Tunisia and Morocco, and with respect to which the two surveys are comparable). Just an example. In both the surveys was asked the following question: Do you think Women Should Have the Same Legal Rights as Men? (It is worth underscoring that in the Pew Research it was not added the 'legal' adjective, anyway I do not think this omission can justify the differences in the answers obtained in the two researches):

According to GS: in Egypt: 79% MEN agree; 86% WOMEN agree
According to PRC: in Egypt: 53% MEN agree; 63% WOMEN agree.
According to GS: in Tunisia: 59% MEN agree; 87% WOMEN agree.
According to PRC: in Tunisia: 65% MEN agree; 84% WOMEN agree.

The situation becomes even more puzzling when one considers that according to the GS in Tunisia and in Yemen there is the same percentage (50%) of men agreeing on the fact that women should have the right to initiate a divorce! Furthermore, I found quite strange the result that the more religious the people the more likely they are to support women's right to initiate divorce. While I agree that religion does not necessarily imply that people should back less gender equality (e.g. 'the Islamic feminism' promotes the ijitihad of the Quran to promote equality betwenn men and women), the conclusion that more religious people back women's right to initiate divorce is quite at odds with the role that family keeps in religion (no matter which religion!). Generally speaking, I think that in the GS there might be an overestimation of the 'progressive' answers as for the Egyptian case, and an underestimation for Tunisia.

Indeed, the results do seem puzzling based on our earlier conceptions of how conservative or liberal these fairly different societies would be polling. That was one of the reasons I thought it worthwhile to write about this. The electoral success of parties like Ennahda points to a more conservative trend than one would perhaps have though earlier. Also in the numbers you cite on Tunisia the differences between the polls are not hugely different, it is the Egypt numbers that really vary widely.

I suspect the differences may lie in the methodologies used.

On the Gallup methodology you may want to check their Country Data Set Details where you can learn more about the methodology of each country data set, including sample size, data collection dates, languages used, mode of interviewing, sample exclusions, and margin of error.

You can also contact Gallup directly via this link.

Hope this is helpful - don't hesitate to contact us again for any further questions you may have.

Submitted by Semlali Amina on
I found this incredibly interesting, thank you for sharing. I too was surprised to read some of the numbers re Tunisia, I thought they would score "better" regarding legal rights (only 59% of men believing that women and men should have equal legal rights).

That being said, several of our previous conceptions have turned out to be a bit off post Arab Spring (e.g. poverty rates higher than previously presented in Tunisia).

Thank you, will circulate this piece.

Submitted by Omer on
Thanks Amina, suprising indeed and on both sides of the equation...The 71% of Egyptian men supporting women's right to initiate divorce was heartening even if the numbers in Syria (only 28% support among men), for example, were quite surprising.I guess the narratives spun by the closed political structures of the past also affected our perceptions of the countries of the region.

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