Six out of ten Arabs believe that the world is better off with WikiLeaks and nearly three quarters would like to see the whistleblowing website publish more on the Arab world.
Support for WikiLeaks and a demand for greater transparency emerged from a wide-ranging Doha Debate poll that surveyed the views of Arabs in 17 Gulf, North Africa and Levant countries, including Egypt and Tunisia. Fieldwork was conducted between the 1st and 6th of February 2011 and included over 1000 respondents.
The results closely mirror the results at a public forum in Qatar where 74 percent of the audience at the recent Doha Debate carried the motion ‘This House believes the world is better off with WikiLeaks’.
In the aftermath of the fall of the Ben Ali regime Tunisia, nearly 60 percent of respondents believe WikiLeaks played a part in the events in Tunisia and the demonstrations in other Arab countries.
More than 60 percent believe that WikiLeaks will change the way governments behave.
55 percent of Arabs revealed in the poll that they believe little to nothing of what their governments tell them. This figure is highest in North Africa where 65 percent of citizens believe little to nothing of government information.
Half of those surveyed want full access to information and transparency.
Despite the support for WikiLeaks, more than half of those interviewed believed the materials released are not 100 percent accurate and truthful. Additionally, an equal number were unsure of whether WikiLeaks has a political agenda or not.
Arab youth have overwhelmingly embraced the WikiLeaks phenomenon and told their governments to stop lying to them.
In the latest Doha Debate an audience of mostly Arab and Muslim students supported the motion: This House believes the world is better off with Wikileaks, by a margin of 74 to 26 percent.
The highly-charged debate was held weeks after the whistle-blowing website published confidential US diplomatic cables, exposing official corruption in several Middle East states and a yawning gap between the private and public positions of Arab rulers on Iran.
A student won instant applause when he said: “I would rather live in a world where I am told the truth than in a world where I am told lies”. Another female student from Qatar asked: “Is it really that wrong to know the truth?”
Panelists clashed frequently over the rights and wrongs of leaking secret State Department cables.
“WikiLeaks is not the solution,” said former Canadian diplomat Scott Gilmore, who argued against the motion.
“Democracy is a messy house with a leaking roof. Julian Assange wants to blow up the house and ruin the diplomatic system.” He added that Mr. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was a “foreign terrorist from the old school of anarchy”.
This sparked protest from a Jordanian member of the audience. “You have no right to call him a terrorist for giving out information that should not be hidden from the public [the way] other international news channels do.”
Carl W. Ford, a former intelligence chief at the State Department, also opposed the motion.
“WikiLeaks is forcing governments to tighten up systems and become less transparent, contrary to what Assange says he is out to achieve,” he said. “Soon there won’t be anything left for whistle-blowers to do.”
Mr. Ford added: “Instead of relying on Julian, we have courts, congressional hearings, journalism and whistle-blowers,” adding that existing mechanisms were sufficient to hold presidents accountable.
Speaking in favour of the motion were Sir Richard Dalton, former British Ambassador to Iran, and Carne Ross, who resigned from the British Foreign Office over Iraq.
“The world is better off with WikiLeaks because it has exposed many wrong-doings,” said Dalton, currently Associate fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London. “We want a government that does not abuse its power. Truth and accountability are important… We have to hold governments accountable for lies and deceit.”
Recalling his first-hand experience with the British government in the run-up to the Iraq conflict, Carne Ross added: “They exaggerated the arguments for war. Parliament and the media did not do their job. If governments told the truth we wouldn’t need WikiLeaks.”
“We still don’t know the real reason why the US and the UK went to war in Iraq.”