Osama bin Laden, slain in a U.S. raid Sunday, had been losing support in the Muslim world in recent years, and his terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, had been declining in popularity, according to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.
The decline came as pro-democracy demonstrations and even, in some cases, revolution swept through the Islamic world. Both trends, the fall in Bin Laden’s standing and the growth of pro-democratic forces, perhaps represent a shift away from the terrorism-based political action of small, violent groups toward mass movements.
According to Pew, Bin Laden retained his highest level of support in the Palestinian territories. But even there, only 34% of Muslims said they had confidence in him, down from a confidence level of 72% in 2003. Bin Laden frequently had cited support for the Palestinians and condemned Israel and its chief ally, the United States.
In other predominantly Muslim areas, confidence that Bin Laden would do the right thing in world affairs had steadily eroded. In Indonesia, 26% this year said they had confidence in Bin Laden, compared with 59% in 2003. Egypt stood at 22%, Jordan 13%, Turkey 3% and Lebanon at 1% -- all substantially down from recent years.
In Pakistan, where Bin Laden was living when he died in the raid, the confidence level fell from 46% in 2003 to 18% in 2010, the last year for which data were available in that country.
It was only among Muslims in Nigeria that Bin Laden came close to having a majority who said they had confidence in him. About 48% in 2010 said they believed Bin Laden would do the right in world affairs, up from 2003, when he stood at 45%, but steadily down from his high point of 61% in 2006.
Al Qaeda, the group that Bin Laden helped start, also received largely negative ratings among Muslims in the 2011 survey.
In Lebanon, just 2% of Muslims and a scant 5% in Turkey expressed favorable views of Al Qaeda. In Jordan, 15% had a positive opinion of Al Qaeda, and in Indonesia and Egypt, 22% and 21%, respectively, were positive about the group.
Palestinian Muslims again offered the most positive views at 28%, but 68% said they saw Al Qaeda negatively; 49% of Nigerian Muslims surveyed in 2010 said they viewed Al Qaeda in a favorable light.
This year’s surveys were conducted from March 21 to April 12.