Palestinian Arabs Most Likely to Support ISIS

Survey by Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies gauges Arab support and opposition to ISIS, and the US-led campaign to defeat them.

Ari Soffer ,

ISIS terrorist in Raqqa, Syria (file)
ISIS terrorist in Raqqa, Syria (file)

Arab support for the jihadist Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is highest among Palestinian Arabs, according to a recent survey.

A poll carried out by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha gauged opinion on the Arab street regarding the current US-led campaign to "rollback" and ultimately defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 5,100 respondents from seven Arab countries (Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, "Palestine", as well as Syrian Arabs in Turkish refugee camps) were asked about their views both of the operation and of ISIS itself.

The results showed that a full 85% of Arabs hold a view of ISIS that is either "Negative" or "Negative to some extent," whereas just 11% saw them as "Positive" or "Positive to some extent."

Regarding the anti-ISIS campaign, despite the deep unpopularity of many of the Arab regimes taking part, a full 59% were supportive of Arab participation in the campaign. Several gulf states as well as Jordan have contributed towards the US-led air campaign.

However, only 22% were fully confident that the mission would succeed, while a mere 3% believed their countries would benefit from the campaign in the end - with the majority saying other actors (the United States, Israel, Iran and the Syrian regime) would ultimately benefit the most.

Poll results did however vary depending on the country. For example, Egyptian respondents polled far below average in unqualified support for the US-led campaign. While an average of 26% of respondents said they "Strongly Support" the operation, just 6% of Egyptians held that view - although the number who "Support" the operation less adamantly was higher (46%) than the average of 33%.

That may reflect the fact that, while Egyptians are just as hostile in general towards ISIS, trust for the US itself is also extremely low following the Obama administration's handling of the events in the country since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Unsurprisingly, Lebanese respondents were the most supportive of the anti-ISIS operation and the most hostile towards ISIS itself.

The majority of Lebanese citizens are either Shia Muslim, Christian or Druze - groups which the Sunni Islamist ISIS views as infidels. In addition, many Sunni Muslims in Lebanon are relatively secular, granting them similar status in the eyes of the jihadists. Hence, a full 76% support the anti-ISIS operation, with the lion's share (68%) "strongly" supporting it. In contrast, 98% had an unqualified "Negative" view of ISIS, and no Lebanese respondents viewed ISIS in a positive light at all (1% viewed them as "Negative to some extent," while a further 1% did not answer.)

Of course, some support for ISIS clearly does exist within Lebanon, as recent clashes and attacks involving radical Sunni Muslim elements attest to. What the poll does illustrate however is the fact that, regardless of sectarian rivalry and hatred, even most Sunni Muslims there are fearful both of the brutal puritanism of ISIS as well as its implications for the delicate social fabric of their country - where memories of bloody civil war are still vivid.

The Arab group with the highest level of support for ISIS were Palestinians, with nearly a quarter (24%) of Palestinians polled viewed ISIS in a positive light.

4% of Palestinians viewed ISIS as purely "Positive," in line with the average response rate of other Arab groups - only Saudi Arabia (5%) and Tunisia (7%) had higher percentages in that category. However, a full 20% viewed ISIS as "Positive to some extent" - well over the overall average of 7%. Additionally, even those Palestinians with negative views of ISIS were more ambivalent than other Arabs; just 36% held a wholly negative view of ISIS (compared to an average of 72%), and a further 36% were only "Negative to some extent" (compared to just 13% overall).

The results contradict Palestinian Authority claims that Palestinian Muslims are far more "moderate" than Muslims elsewhere.