Who is Amaney Jamal? Part I

Amaney Jamal is a celebrated political scholar with a focus on Middle Eastern politics, and a Professor at Princeton University. In addition to her professorial duties and lecture tours, she also runs Princeton’s Workshop on Arab Political Development, a political think-tank, as well as being the principal researcher of the Arab Barometer Project, a project devoted to public opinion surveys throughout the region. Ms. Jamal takes an analytical view of the politics of the region, using empirical data, rather than historical assumptions, to develop her theories on the current state and potential future of democracy in the region.

In her research, public talks, and writings, Ms. Jamal devotes an enormous amount of time to defining the concept of democracy in the Middle East, as well as the role that the United States has played in shaping policy in the region, and affecting the population’s opinion of democracy as a whole. Her discoveries on public opinion on policy in the mid-2000’s were an important step in putting Middle Eastern democratic potentials to the test in a practical way, rather than rely on the deluge of theoretical posturing we have seen for the last half-century. It is bizarre to think that it was not until this landmark study that scholars had presented an empirical study of Arab citizen’s own views on the subject, however this topic of study is one that is, unfortunately, prone to polemics rather than a serious debate, particularly in the field of political commentating.

Much of her studies and lectures revolve around two issues: public opinion of democracy amongst Arab citizens, which she compares with the survey respondents socio-economic background, level of education, level of religious faith, and views on social aspects such as gender equality; and public opinion of Islam and Arabs, and Muslim immigrants amongst citizens of the United States. Through the empirical data she recovers, Jamal aims to discover the link between active citizenship, civic engagement, and successful democratic political systems in relation to Islam and the Middle Eastern social climate.

Democracy, being a rulership “of the people, for the people”, obviously requires a foundation of public support, and historical case studies have shown that a democratic system enforced against the will or the citizens, whether in Latin America, Africa, or the former USSR, results in failure. Therefore, it seems obvious that for an academic to determine the democratic viability in a region, one must first determine the level of public support for democracy in the region. This is one of the many things that Ms. Jamal is helping to accomplish through the Arab Barometer Project and her writing in various prestigious journals, including the Cairo Review and Perspectives on Politics. In this same vein, her lectures and published books provide an encompassing, historical view of problems facing democratic institutionalization in the region.

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