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MENAFN - The Peninsula - 07/10/2012

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(MENAFN - The Peninsula) Contrary to general perceptions, only a small minority of the Arabs - 19 percent - introduce themselves as profoundly religious, while a majority of them - 66 percent - consider themselves "somewhat religious," shows a regional survey.

The opinion poll that covered more than 16,000 people in 12 Arab countries also found that even those who are profoundly religious are not opposed to democracy as a political system.

While 85 percent of the respondents introduced themselves as "religious," 11 percent said they were not practising any religion and 0.4 percent said they did not believe in any religion.

The survey was conducted by the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS).

For nearly half of the Arabs, being religous does not mean just worship, but good social behaviour and fulilling the responsibities towards society.

However, a slight majority of the respondents - 49 percent - still perceive religion as offering the prayers and other spiritual obligations. .

The findings were presented by ACRPS founder and former Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset Azmi Bishara at a symposium on Islam and democracy which opened at the Doha Sheraton yesterday.

The three-day symposium titled "Islamists and the democratic governance in the transitional stage of the Arab revolutions" is hosted by ACRPS and has brought together intellectuals and academics from across the Arab world.

A majority of the surveyed - 71 percent - said they don't discriminate between religious and non-religious people in their daily dealings, while 26 percent showed a preference to religious people.

Nearly half of the respondents said the best political system is one that fulfils the basic requirements of the people.

For 29 percent of the people, the best government is one that protects the sovereignty of the country.

Thirty-five percent of the respondents felt that religious and political freedom is a necessary pre-condition for democracy.

Commenting on the survey, Bishara said many of the findings contradicted the general perceptions. Even extremely religious people are not opposing democracy as a political system and separation of state from religion. Half of the Arabs believe that religion is not all about worship, but also connected to social behaviour. "It is impossible to set up democracy and ignore the sovereignty of the country," he said.

He said it is not correct to attribute democracy to any religion or community because it emerged from a political movement in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution. The symposium yesterday discussed the issues and challenges facing Islamists who came to power in several Arab Spring countries, especially Tunisia and Egypt. Some prominent figures from the Arab world including Rachid Al Ghannouchi, founder of the ruling Al Nahda party in Tunisia are expected to address the symposium.


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