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Mansoor Moaddel, sociologist at Eastern Michigan University, presented data from a two-stage survey conducted in Egypt, Jordan, and Iran here yesterday. Moaddel and his colleagues collected survey data on political, cultural, and religious attitudes in the middle east in 2000, and they repeated their survey in 2002. The data reflects changes in attitudes accompanying the aftermath of 9/11 and the intensifying Israeili/Palestinian conflict.

The data is largely descriptive at this point, but it has potential for interesting analysis. One thing caught my attention: Moaddel and his colleagues find both that postitive Egyptian attitudes toward democracy and negative attitudes toward Western “cultural invasion” have increased. A problematic aspect of the finding regarding cultural invasion, as one questioner pointed out, is that the term is ill-defined: Does it mean free markets? Pop music? Fashion? Language? Moaddel’s response was that the term is itself used in just such a vague fashion, in the region. That is, the broad idea of “Western cultural invasion” is a salient, and increasingly so, problem in Egypt (the comparative data from Iran and Jordan is not yet available).

Despite this fuzziness to the concept of cultural invasion, its pairing with positive attitudes toward democracy is interesting. In an era of “regime change,” when certain U.S. representatives are quick to equate democracy, modernity, and accountability, the notion that Western culture could be perceived as at odds with democracy is striking. Resolving the meaning of cultural invasion more precisely will be an imporant factor in understanding this relationship, but the implications are nonetheless compelling: Could it be that the American model of free-market-pop-culture-democracy is not as universally appealing as we might sometimes think?