David Pollock is the Kaufman Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an adviser to Pechter Polls.
Reporting about violence in the Middle East often focuses on Islamic extremists, and this is increasingly true for much of the coverage of Syria’s uprising. But in the Syrian political opposition, Islamic extremism is truly the exception that proves the rule. The vast majority of Syrian opposition activists, according to a new, systematic survey of more than 1,000 of them, express relatively moderate views about Islamic issues. They also voice support for many key democratic values — and most look to the West and other democracies for inspiration and protection. These findings offer support for the view that mainstream Syrian opposition fighters merit the increased aid that would enable them to defend themselves, defeat Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship and restrain any extremists infiltrating their movement.
The survey, completed in July, was commissioned by the nonprofit International Republican Institute, a nongovernmental organization, and conducted by Pechter Polls of Princeton, N.J., in consultation with Conrad Winn of Compas Research and Carleton University. Native Syrian interviewers conducted the poll, using secure Skype and online links in Arabic. To minimize regime interference or intimidation, the sampling employed a referral (or “snowball”) methodology, starting with five trusted opposition activists, men and women, from different locations and different ethnic, religious, political and socioeconomic backgrounds. They sampled their own networks of opposition contacts and other networks identified as the fieldwork proceeded.