14-08-2013 12:33PM ET

Attitudes in post-Morsi Egypt

The latest polling shows massive Egyptian support for their army and very little support for US policy, writes James Zogby

Attitudes in post-Morsi Egypt

During the second half of July, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) conducted a nationwide face-to-face survey of 5,042 Egyptian adults in an effort to learn how they were reacting to developments in the post-Tamarod, post-Morsi era, as well as their assessment of the US-Egypt relationship. This survey was a follow-up to the ZRS poll of 5,029 Egyptian adults that had been completed in May.

What we found in the July poll is that Egyptian attitudes towards both their internal political situation and their relationship with the United States are conflicted and in flux.
In May, 82 per cent of all Egyptians told us that they had been hopeful at the time of the 2011 revolution. By May that hope had evaporated, with only 36 per cent saying they were still hopeful about developments in their country. In the July survey, following Tamarod and the deposing of President Morsi, the percentage of Egyptians who now say they feel hopeful has jumped to 68 per cent.

As we anticipated in May, however, Egyptians are not of one mind regarding the military intervention, with those who support the Islamic parties favouring restoring President Mohamed Morsi to power, while those who support the Tamarod movement and the secular parties maintaining that the military took the correct decision to depose Morsi 3 July. Despite this division, a remarkable 93 per cent of all adults still retain confidence in the military, as an institution — an attitude shared by Egyptians across the political spectrum — Islamists and secularists alike. This support for the military in July remains virtually unchanged from the findings in our May survey in which we found that the military had the confidence of 94 per cent of all Egyptians. This near unanimous level of support might be surprising given the drama that is currently unfolding in the streets of Cairo.

Also noteworthy is the degree to which the confidence in the military stands in contrast to the lack of confidence displayed in all of Egypt’s political parties ­— none of which can claim the confidence of more than 30 per cent of the public. In fact, the only entity to earn the support of more than 30 per cent of Egyptians is the Tamarod movement, which has the confidence of 39 per cent of those polled. Even with this strong support for the military, however, almost two-thirds of all Egyptians are in a “wait-and-see” mode as to whether the new interim government will fulfil its promise to deliver a new constitution and a more inclusive democracy in their country.

What the July survey further reveals is that Egyptians are deeply conflicted about the role played by the United States. President Barack Obama, who had earned high marks among Egyptians following his “Address to the Muslim World” delivered at Cairo University in 2009, has now dropped to a three per cent positive rating. At the same time, confidence in the US is at one per cent.

Nevertheless, Egyptians are divided on the matter of how important it is for their country to have good relations with the United States, with 48 per cent saying it is important and 51 per cent saying it is not important. Interestingly the only sub-group in which a majority agree that relations with the US are important are the supporters of the Tamarod movement.

Two-thirds of all Egyptians feel that the US was too supportive of President Morsi. And more than eight in 10 feel that “Egypt was harmed by the US policy of support for Morsi.” When asked about their reactions to the calls by some American politicians to “suspend US aid until there is a legitimately elected government in Egypt,” 18 per cent respond that “it makes me happy,” 24 per cent say “it makes me angry,” but 56 per cent say they “don’t care, because Egypt doesn’t need US aid.” The reason for this negative attitude can be found in the responses given to the question: “Who has most benefited from the billions of dollars of US assistance to Egypt?” Only 24 per cent agree that either the Egyptian people or military have been the prime beneficiaries, while 21 per cent say it is the US and 48 per cent say that it is Israel that has benefited most from post-Camp David US aid to Egypt.

One of the more revealing findings in the poll comes in responses to the question “to what extent do you feel that the United States understands Egypt and the Egyptian people?” Only 36 per cent agree that the US has some understanding, while 62 per cent say that the US has little or no understanding of Egypt and its people.

These results make clear the profound challenges facing both the Egyptian military and the United States in this critical period of Egypt’s history. Regardless of the strong support it currently retains, the military establishment must deliver on its promise to restore order and to help to create a more inclusive political order with a new constitution and elections. This is what is what the public expects. Failure to deliver could have negative consequences.

For its part, the US needs to understand that its role in Egypt has been seriously compromised by its past behaviour. Especially in this extraordinarily volatile period, Egyptians do not have a favourable view of interference by the US in what they feel are critical decisions they must make about the future direction of their country. Threats to suspend assistance ring false or hollow, especially when they are delivered by politicians whose motives are suspect since they are not seen as having been friendly to Egypt, or to concerns shared by most Egyptians.

In this period, US officials would do well to recall the more measured approach taken by President Obama in his post-Arab Spring May 2011 speech at the State Department. Back then he offered wise counsel, noting that the US didn’t start the Arab Spring and couldn’t direct its outcome. He suggested the US could provide assistance, where needed, to help grow the economies and build the infrastructures of these societies amidst the dramatic changes they were experiencing.

The July poll shows that the US still has a reservoir of good will to draw on with one-half of Egyptians still viewing relations with the US as important. But with most Egyptians feeling that the US doesn’t understand their society or their needs, the US ought not to squander its potential by attempting to impose itself and dictating terms in the internal affairs of Egypt.

 

The writer is president of the Arab American Institute.