Close to two-thirds of the Egyptian public is satisfied with the way things
are going in their country, pleased that former president Hosni Mubarak is
gone, and optimistic about the future, according to a new survey by the Pew
Research Center's Global Attitudes Project.
But the readiness of the public to accept military rule, or rule by a religious-
based political party, and to abrogate its peace treaty with Israel, raises
questions about what kind of Egypt it will be.
The Pew organization said, "In this new political era, Egyptians are
embracing long-standing bases of power, and new ones, as well. The
military and its leadership are very well regarded, and the Egyptian public is
clearly open to religion-based political parties being part of a future
government. Most have a favorable opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood, and
looking ahead to the elections, it has as much potential support as any of a
number of political parties."
The Egyptian public's unwavering support for the military is particularly
problematic. In the early days of the Tahrir Square revolution, the Army
won the applause of the anti-government protesters by using its tanks to
keep pro-Mubarak forces from attacking demonstrators. Later, the Army was
seen clearly to take the side of the anti-government protesters.
But, even during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the Army was accused
of roughing up and arresting many anti-government demonstrators, torturing
them in custody, and holding some of these civilians for military trials. Their
actions sparked an outcry from the anti-Mubarak forces and an investigation
by the Army Supreme Council, which is running the country until elections
Egypt-watchers say the high respect in which the Army is held dates back at
least to Egypt's three wars with Israel. Thanks to Egyptian Government
propaganda, many Egyptians believe Egypt was victorious in these wars.
After the 1973 war, known as the Yom Kippur War, Egypt regained control
of the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had won as part of the agreement ending
the 1967 Six Day War. But there is no question outside Egypt that Israel was
the victor in all three wars.
It was the conviction that Egypt and its Arab allies would never defeat Israel
militarily that drove President Anwar Sadat to make his historic visit to
Israel in 1977. That courageous act formed the basis of the US-brokered
peace treaty that currently exists.
If post-revolution Egypt appears to distancing itself from what most of The
West saw as the protesters' democratic vision of the country in the future,
the Pew survey also uncovered many contrary and contradictory opinions.
For example, while Egyptians would find a military or religious-based
government acceptable, Pew finds that "other agents of political change are
also viewed positively by majorities of Egyptians, including the relatively
secular April 6 Movement and political leaders Amr Moussa, Ayman
Nour, and Mohamed ElBaradei."
This should come as no surprise to those familiar with the myriad of
contradictions that co-exist in modern Egypt. In fact Pew found near-
unanimity on only two issues: "No dividend emerges for the United States
from the political changes that have occurred in Egypt. Favorable ratings of
the U.S. remain as low as they have been in recent years, and many
Egyptians say they want a less close relationship with America. Israel fares
even more poorly. By a 54%-to-36% margin, Egyptians want the peace
treaty with that country annulled."
But Egyptians, repeatedly burned by unkept leadership promises, appear to
bring a healthy dose of caution into their assessments of the future. Pew
notes: "This is not to say that many do not remain cautious about the
prospects for political change -- just 41% say that a free and fair choice in the
next election is very likely, while as many (43%) think it is only somewhat
likely, and 16% say it is unlikely."
The Pew survey was conducted nationwide. Face-to-face interviews were
conducted with 1,000 adults in Egypt between March 24 and April 7, 2011.
The poll finds Egyptians anxious for democracy and accountable
government. When asked what has concerned them most about Egypt in
recent years, corruption and a lack of democracy top the list.
And Pew says that support for democracy is clearly on the rise in Egypt.
"Last year, 60% of Egyptians said that democracy is preferable to any other
type of government; today, 71% hold this view. By a 64%-to-34% majority,
most say they favor a democratic form of government over a strong leader."
Four years ago the public was evenly divided on this basic question about
governance. Moreover, 62% want parliamentary and presidential elections
as soon as possible, rather than delaying them to give political parties more
time to organize.
Yet, the poll finds that the desire for free multiparty elections co-exists, and
potentially competes with, other aspirations.
"More Egyptians say that improved economic conditions (82%) and a fair
judiciary (79%) are very important than say that about honest, multiparty
elections (55%). And maintaining law and order is also more highly rated
(63%). In that regard, when asked to choose which is more important -- a
democratic government, even if there is some risk of political instability, or
a stable government that is not fully democratic -- democracy wins out, but
by a narrow 54%-majority; 32% choose stability, and as many as 14% of
Egyptians say they are not sure. When a good democracy is tested against a
strong economy, it is a 47%-to-49% draw, respectively."