Researchers from a dozen Arab countries convened in Doha on May 12 and 13 to attend a workshop, hosted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, to discuss some of the major findings and plan the future direction of the Arab Opinion Index Project, a meta-study of local field studies in 12 participating countries (and counting).
The Project, forming the backbone of the ACRPS' efforts to measure and formulate public opinion in Arab countries, concluded its first round during 2011, which saw more than 16,000 survey interviews conducted in 12 Arab countries. The workshop participants, who included most of the Principal Investigators of the 2011 field studies, spent the first day of the meeting sharing experiences. One common factor that emerged was the difficulty of conducting an opinion survey in a society passing through a period of flux, and where self-reported definitions were very subjective. Reporting on Tunisia, where more than a quarter of last year's respondents claimed to be "not at all religious" - by far the highest proportion in any Arab country - Al-Mouldi Lahmar summed up a widely held view that "we might need to rely on some more [qualitative] anthropological studies to make the most of the survey results".
Part of the complication was identified by Adib Nehme from ESCWA in Lebanon, who addressed the matter of seeming contradictions by stating that "it is perfectly normal to see a dichotomy between the conceptual answers to a survey, and political practice."
Apart from questions related to religiosity, the Project also aims to determine and better elucidate subjects ranging from the Arab public's perspectives on questions of public life and politics (such as attitudes toward democracy) to self-reporting on family finances. Deploying a variety of multiple-choice and open-ended questions, the answers to which were collated according to a key-word system, the results of the 2011 study, fortuitously collected on the eve of the outbreak of the popular revolutions in Arab countries, have already become the source of much discussion on Middle East policy. The second day of the workshop was devoted to a close review of the survey's tools - with an eye toward the coming year's field studies. As Dr. Mohammed Masri of the University of Jordan pointed out, "[the ACRPS] is not doing this on their own; they're taking advice from social scientists, demographers and economists, to make sure that the collected data are valuable."
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Main results of the 2011 survey can be found here.