An opinion survey conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies showed that fully a third of Syrian refugees do not want to see the defeat of the Islamic State. Of the Syrian refugees polled, thirteen percent have a positive opinion of the Islamic State, while another ten percent have mixed feeling for the terrorist organization. Thus, at least a quarter of these may be open to recruitment as Islamic State combatants.
The poll sampled 900 Syrian refugees as part of a larger survey of six hundred people in each of six Arab nations and the Palestinian territory about their feelings about the Islamic State. The surveyed included Syrian refugees in equal proportion among those located in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The survey also questioned residents of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
The study showed that a clear majority of Arabs (59%) expressed varying degrees of support (either “Strongly support” or “Support”) for the allied airstrikes against terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State. By way of contrast, 37% of respondents voiced various levels of opposition (either “Strongly opposed” or “Opposed”) to the coalition’s bombing campaign.
Notably, twice as many respondents were strongly in favor of the military campaign as were strongly opposed to it: 25% compared to 12%.
Lebanon showed the highest levels of support for the coalition strikes against the Islamic State: 76% of respondents in Lebanon support the airstrikes, compared to 24% who were opposed to them. The lowest levels of support for the strikes came from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Palestine: only 50%of Saudis expressed support for military action against armed extremist groups; that figure was 52% for Palestine and Egypt. At 6%, the proportion of Egyptians who were. It is Lebanon that had the lowest percentile of those favoring the Islamic State: less than one percent.
The poll was released in November. It appears to support the concerns of two dozen state governors in the United States who have voiced their opposition to the resettlement of 10,000 Syrians announced by President Barack Obama. So far, the Obama administration has resettled approximately 1,600 Syrian refugees during the past fiscal year.
Among Palestinians, the survey found that twenty-four percent of those polled have a positive view of the Islamic State, while thirty-six percent have a somewhat negative opinion of the terrorist organization. The survey also shows Palestinians as the only group where less than fifty percent (48) support the defeat of the Islamic State.
The results of the survey indicate that the vast majority of the Arab public has a negative view of the Islamic State, while 11% of Arabs have a positive view (either “Positive” or “Positive to some extent”). Arab public opinion also provides a number of arguments to explain the Islamic State’s popularity among its supporters, the most important of these being: the group’s military achievements; its adherence to religious principles; its preparedness to confront the West; and its self-proclaimed status as a defender of the Sunni Muslim community in Iraq and Syria.
Confidence in the ability of the US-led coalition to achieve its aims remains low: only one-quarter of the Arab public believes that the coalition can accomplish what it has set out to do. In conclusion, the Arab public opposes the Islamic State and supports the coalition’s stated objective of “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group. Nonetheless, the Arab public remains skeptical of the coalition’s ability to achieve that aim, and further believes that the US-led campaign against the Islamic State would serve the interest of a small group of global and regional powers at the expense of respondents’ home countries.