Pew Polls in the Middle East: Hezbollah and Hamas

[tweetmeme] Don’t forget to check out the look at the Pew Poll concerning Palestine and Israel.

The Pew Global Attitude Project just released a new report of the attitudes towards Middle East.  The poll covered various leaders and groups.  As I mentioned in the earlier Pew Polls post, there were expected and unexpected results.  The attitudes towards Hezbollah and Hamas give a good idea of the social situations in Lebanon and Palestine.

According to the poll, Hamas received generally favorable ratings in Jordan (56%) and Egypt (52%), but polled much lower in Lebanon (30%) and the Palestinian territories (44%) – particularly in Gaza (37%).  Interestingly, the popularity of Hamas is fairly unpredictable.  After the 2008/2009 war with Israel, Hamas’ popularity soared, but dipped again later in the year as the devastating Israeli blockade slowly tore apart lives in Gaza.  Although the recent Pew poll had Hamas scoring few points in Palestine, the group received better results than in January (27.7%) and June (18.8%) of 2009 (albeit in a poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, not Pew).

Hamas, like Fatah, has never received great numbers in Palestine so the low numbers here are not a surprise.  One cause for the low rating might be the continued resistance to peace with Israel.  A 2006 poll by Khalil Shikaki – and remember that Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006 – the group was generally supported within Palestine, but a majority of Palestinians desired peace with Israel.  Interestingly, Shikaki’s poll shows the Palestinian public opinion somewhere in between Hamas and Fatah:

The public takes a position almost right in the middle between Fatah and Hamas. On the one hand, two-thirds [of those polled] support Hamas’ views that it should not support the state of Israel as a precondition for international support or for entering negotiations with Israel. So in this instance we clearly see the public taking the position of Hamas rather than the position of Fatah or the president. But to the question of “If there is a peace agreement and the issues of the conflict are resolved and a two-state solution is adopted and a Palestinian state is created,” a full three-fourths say they would not only support recognition of Israel but also support reconciliation between the two peoples. In fact two-thirds of the public are willing to go further and agree to a formula whereby the Palestinians would not only recognize Israel but would recognize the Jewish nature of the state of Israel as part of a peace agreement.

Thus, although the support for Hamas in the most recent poll seems low, it is above-average for Palestinian political parties and has improved over the last several months.  This could be the result of a Hamas group that has strong moderating tendencies – some senior Hamas members have even stated that they would accept an Israel along 1967 borders.

Turning to Lebanon, the Pew polls show clear proof of the durability of sectarianism  in the country.  Despite calls for abolishing sectarianism in Lebanon, the Pew poll shows a Lebanon sharply divided along sectarian lines.  Hezbollah, the Shi’ite militant/political group polled extremely high among Shi’ites (97%) and extremely low among Sunnis (2%).  Furthermore, in a question asked to only Muslims – ‘Are Sunni-Shia Tensions Limited to Iraq or a more General Problem?’ – 95% of Lebanese Muslims responded that the Sunni-Shi’a divide was more general than Iraq.

The Sunni-Shi’a divide in Lebanon has grown over the last few years as well.  According to the Pew poll:

On several measures, the already large divides between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon are growing even wider. For instance, in 2007 94% of Sunnis and 57% of Shia expressed confidence in Saudi King Abdullah; in 2009, 94% of Sunnis and only 8% of Shia hold this view. A similar example is evident in attitudes toward Hamas. Although it is a predominantly Sunni organization, Hamas has grown from generally popular among Lebanese Shia in 2008 (64% favorable) to almost universally popular in 2009 (91%), while Sunni support for the group has gone from low (9%) to almost nonexistent (1%).

The chart on the left clearly demonstrates the growing divide between the Muslims of Lebanon.  In addition to the problem of abolishing sectarianism in the country, the strong divide on Hezbollah could present some very volatile problems if the Shi’ite group were to be sucked into war with Israel.  If war were to occur and Israel followed through on its threat to hold all Lebanon accountable for the Shi’ite group, Hezbollah’s popularity would plummet across the sectarian spectrum.  If the damage to Lebanon were great enough, non-Shi’a could move to force a Hezbollah disarmament and, to use the words of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a second civil war in Lebanon could start ‘like this.’

Of course, predicting both a war with Israel and a second Lebanese civil war simply by looking at numerical evidence of the growing sectarian divide is silly.  However the divide demonstrated from this recent poll clearly demonstrates the resilience of the Lebanese sectarian system.  It is certainly something from which Iraq could learn a lesson.

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10 thoughts on “Pew Polls in the Middle East: Hezbollah and Hamas

  1. Thanks AbuG,

    Did you get a chance to look at the poll? I found it really interesting that Turkey has very negative views of just about everyone. Kind of crazy. Hows the book?

  2. Pingback: Quora

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