Are Arabs turning their backs on religion? Survey


arab world mapArabs are increasingly saying they are no longer religious, according to the largest and most in-depth survey undertaken of the Middle East and North Africa.

The finding is one of a number on how Arabs feel about a wide range of issues, from women’s rights and migration to security and sexuality.

More than 25,000 people were interviewed for the survey – for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer research network – across 10 countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019.

Here are some of the results.

Chart showing that the proportion of people who say they are not religious has increased in every place except Yemen since 2013

Since 2013, the number of people across the region identifying as “not religious” has risen from 8% to 13%. The rise is greatest in the under 30s, among whom 18% identify as not religious, according to the research. Only Yemen saw a fall in the category.

Chart showing that most people think a woman as prime minister is acceptable but think a husband should have the final say in family decisions

Most people across the region supported the right of a woman to become prime minister or president. The exception was Algeria where less than 50% of those questioned agreed that a woman head of state was acceptable.

But when it comes to domestic life, most – including a majority of women – believe that husbands should always have the final say on family decisions. Only in Morocco did fewer than half the population think a husband should always be the ultimate decision-maker.

Chart showing acceptance of homosexuality is low or extremely low across the region

Acceptance of homosexuality varies but is low or extremely low across the region. In Lebanon, despite having a reputation for being more socially liberal than its neighbours, the figure is 6%.

An honour killing is one in which relatives kill a family member, typically a woman, for allegedly bringing dishonour onto the family.

Chart showing that Erdogan is more popular than Trump and Putin in the region
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Every place surveyed put Donald Trump’s Middle East policies last when comparing these leaders. By contrast, in seven of the 11 places surveyed, half or more approved of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s approach.

Lebanon, Libya and Egypt ranked Vladimir Putin’s policies ahead of Erdogan’s.

Chart showing that Israel is considered the greatest foreign threat by most areas, followed by the United States.
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Totals for each country do not always sum to 100 because ‘Don’t know’ and ‘Refused to respond’ have not been included.

Security remains a concern for many in the Middle East and North Africa. When asked which countries posed the biggest threat to their stability and national security, after Israel, the US was identified as the second biggest threat in the region as a whole, and Iran was third.

Chart showing that the proportion of people who have thought about emigrating is up in 6 of the 11 places surveyed, compared to 2013.

In every place questioned, research suggested at least one in five people were considering emigrating. In Sudan, this accounted for half the population.

Economic reasons were overwhelmingly cited as the driving factor.

They’re not all aiming for Europe

The number of those considering leaving for North America has risen, and while Europe is less popular than it was it remains the top choice for those people thinking of leaving the region.

By Becky Dale, Irene de la Torre Arenas, Clara Guibourg, and Tom de Castella.

BBC Arabic are covering this subject all this week. Follow #BBCARABICSURVEY on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more.


The survey was carried out by the research network, Arab Barometer. The project interviewed 25,407 people face-to-face in 10 countries and the Palestinian territories. The Arab Barometer is a research network based at Princeton University. They have been conducting surveys like this since 2006. The 45-minute, largely tablet-based interviews were conducted by researchers with participants in private spaces.

It is of Arab world opinion, so does not include Iran or Israel, though it does include the Palestinian territories. Most countries in the region are included but several Gulf governments refused full and fair access to the survey. The Kuwait results came in too late to include in the BBC Arabic coverage. Syria could not be included due to the difficulty of access.

For legal and cultural reasons some countries asked to drop some questions. These exclusions are taken into account when expressing the results, with limitations clearly outlined.

You can find out more details about the methodology on the Arab Barometer website.