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What do Arabs Want?

CAIRO – The self-immolation a year ago of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi triggered a wave of popular protests that spread across the Arab world, forcing out dictators in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Now, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, too, seems near the end of his rule.

Together, these movements for change have come to be known as the Arab Spring. But what values are driving these movements, and what kind of change do their adherents want? A series of surveys in the Arab world last summer highlights some significant shifts in public opinion.

In surveys, 84% of Egyptians and 66% of Lebanese regarded democracy and economic prosperity as the Arab Spring’s goal. In both countries, only about 9% believed that these movements aimed to establish an Islamic government.

For Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, where trend data are available, the Arab Spring reflected a significant shift in people’s values concerning national identity. In 2001, only 8% of Egyptians defined themselves as Egyptians above all, while 81% defined themselves as Muslims. In 2007, the results were roughly the same.