Previous public opinion studies argued that in the Arab Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Muslim citizens support gender equality less than non-Muslims, due to Islamic-patriarchal socialization. Deviating from this Orientalist narrative, we formulate a context-dependent agentic-socialization framework, which acknowledges religiosity's and gender equality's multidimensionality along with the MENA's political-institutional diversity. We expect that religious service attendance and devotion decrease support for gender equality in politics but not in education. Moreover, we theorize that open political structures allow citizens to express agency and dissociate from dominant patriarchal patterns. We test these expectations using WVS and AB data covering 50,000 respondents in 39 MENA country-years. Our results show religious service attendance indeed reduces support for gender equality. However, more devoted citizens support gender equality in education more than the less devoted, and in more democratic polities and in polities with more freedom of press, the same is found for political gender equality. Moreover, support for gender equality is greater in open polities than closed ones, but this gap closes when people frequent religious services. These results suggest MENA citizens are not univocally passively socialized by patriarchal religious views, but actively engage with other interpretations, provided these are not banned by oppressive governments.
- gender equality
- arab countries