ISIS's Weak, but Stubborn, Support in the Middle East

Why the U.S. could risk alienating potential allies if it pushes too hard against the militant group.

Tatan Syuflana/AP

While the Islamic State is ramping up recruitment around the world, the public is against them in key "coalition" countries, which include Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. A survey—conducted by a commercial firm for The Washington Institute of Near East Policy—polled 1,000 residents of each of those three nations. The interviews were conducted face-to-face by "experienced local professionals."

In Egypt, only 3 percent felt positively towards the terrorist organization. Respondents in Saudi Arabia felt the most positive with 5 percent and Lebanon the least with 1 percent.

"There is a real difference between almost no support and no support at all," The Washington Institute's David Pollock noted on the organization's website. "In any of these places, this is enough to harbor at least a few cells of serious troublemakers." Pollock also serves as the director of The Institute's Fikra Forum, an online community aimed at supporting Arab democrats. If you assume the poll's percentages are accurate, and apply that to population, that could mean that Saudi Arabia has about half a million ISIS supporters, Egypt has about 1.5 million and Lebanon has several thousand.

As for the United States, they received relatively low popular opinion as well: Just 12 percent in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and 25 percent in Lebanon.

The full details of the The Washington Institute's poll are below:

Pollock's takeaway from the numbers is nuanced. Since support for ISIS appears to be so low, the United States need not fear a surge of Islamic State recruits. However, "the United States would be well advised to target its actions very narrowly against ISIS," he writes. Courting Iran in the battle against ISIS runs a similar risk of "alienating the Egyptian and the Saudi publics, and of further inflaming the dangerous sectarian polarization among Lebanese at the same time."