from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

What Do Egyptians Think?

May 22, 2014

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

As Egypt approaches its election, what do Egyptians think about their country and its leaders?

The Pew Research Center has offered a set of answers, based on polls taken last month and entitled "One Year after Morsi’s Ouster, Divides Persist on El-Sisi, Muslim Brotherhood."

Here are some of the Pew findings:

--72% of Egyptians are dissatisfied with their country’s direction.

--Last year’s military coup is viewed favorably by 54% of Egyptians but unfavorably by 43%; and similarly, 54% view Gen. Sisi favorably and 45% unfavorably.

--Ousted president Mohamed Morsi is viewed favorably by 42% of the population, and the Muslim Brotherhood by 38%.

--The popularity of the military continues to drop, from 88% when it ousted Hosni Mubarak, to 73% a year ago, and to 56% now--while those who view the military’s impact on the country negatively are now 45% of Egyptians.

--63% of Egyptians say their government does not respect personal liberties.

--Most Egyptians have a continuing desire of most Egyptians to live in a  democracy though the percentage is falling over time as stability becomes a greater worry.

Whether these numbers really represent Egyptian reality may be questioned. Only 1,000 Egyptians were polled, and in conditions of violence or instability (or fear of the government) polls are always more difficult to conduct.

Given the recent performance of the regime in suppressing all dissent, the profound economic challenges Sisi faces, and the Army’s own likely resistance to deep economic reforms, Sisi may well become increasingly unpopular. If this poll is accurate, he seems to start with four in ten Egyptians very dubious about him anyway.

The Pew numbers suggest that one very common narrative about Egypt--that almost all the people hate the Brotherhood and applauded the military coup and love Sisi--is misleading. Very substantial minorities, roughly forty percent of the population, disagree. And here there is a message for the United States. We invested in Mubarak and then the SCAF and then the Morsi government, and we should not make that mistake again. We should judge Sisi by his performance, as Egyptians will, including not only his performance at reviving the economy but his respect for citizen’s political and civil rights. And that’s a good policy to keep in mind whether the Pew poll is reliable or not.