WASHINGTON - Solid majorities in Arab countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan believe democracy is the best form of government, as do a plurality of people in Pakistan, a new poll said on Tuesday.“Indeed, these publics do not just support the general notion of democracy – they also embrace specific features of a democratic system, such as competitive elections and free speech,” according to the survey, released by the US-based Pew Research Center.A substantial number in key Muslim countries want a large role for Islam in political life, it said. However, there are significant differences over the degree to which the legal system should be based on Islam.At the same time, the study said while democratic rights and institutions are popular, they are clearly not the only priorities in the six Muslim majority nations surveyed. In particular, the economy is a top concern. And if they had to choose, most Jordanians, Tunisians and Pakistanis would rather have a strong economy than a good democracy, it said. Turks and Lebanese, on the other hand, would prefer democracy. Egyptians are divided.The United States is not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East, according to the study. In newly democratic Tunisia, only about three-in-ten believe the American response to the political upheaval in their country has had a positive impact. Despite the tumult and uncertainty of the last year, views about democracy are mostly unchanged since 2011, although support has declined somewhat in Jordan. Enthusiasm for democracy tends to be generally less intense in Jordan and in Pakistan, according to the study. It is consistently strong in Lebanon and Turkey.There is also a strong desire for Islam to play a major role in the public life of these nations, and most want Islam to have at least some influence on their country’s laws, it said. Majorities in Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt believe laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Holy Quran, while most Tunisians and a 44 pc-plurality of Turks want laws to be influenced by the values and principles of Islam, but not strictly follow the Holy Quran.About four-in-ten Lebanese say laws should not be influenced at all by the teachings of the Holy Quran, although on this issue – as on many issues – views vary sharply along religious and sectarian lines. While 63 pc of Lebanese Christians and 38 pc of Sunni Muslims say laws should not be guided by the Holy Quran, just 13 pc of Shia Muslims agree. Just as opinions about religion and politics vary across these six nations, so do views about gender equality. Majorities in all six believe women should have equal rights as men, and more than eight-in-ten hold this view in Lebanon and Turkey. However, in Egypt – where the role of women in society has been a heavily debated issue throughout the post-Mubarak transition period – a slimmer 58 pc-majority favours equal rights, while 36pc oppose the idea. Only 53pc of Egyptian men endorse equal rights.Moreover, while many support the general principle of gender equality, there is less enthusiasm for gender parity in politics, economics, and family life. For instance, many believe men make better political leaders, that men should have more of a right to a job than women when jobs are scarce, and that families should help choose a woman’s husband.These are among the key findings from a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted in six predominantly Muslim nations March 19 to April 20.1 The poll, which is part of the broader 21-nation spring 2012 Global Attitudes survey, found considerable optimism – at least among Arab publics – about the prospects for democracy in the region.