By now, I should be used to the fact that people will cherry-pick polls or try to spin results to fit their agendas. But, it still rankles.
For example, former US vice-president Dick Cheney famously tried to find good news in the first poll Zogby International conducted in Iraq in October 2003. Our poll findings demonstrated that even at that early date America was in real trouble with the Iraqi public. But Mr Cheney would not accept bad news. A few days after our poll release, he praised the “carefully done ... Zogby poll” saying that there was “very positive news in it”.
Last week, we released the data of our latest poll in Egypt under the headline “Egyptian Attitudes: Divided and Polarized”. Since then, news stories and commentaries implied that the findings have good news for the Muslim Brotherhood, bad news for the military and surprising news about the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In fact, the results are far more nuanced.
It is true that the Brotherhood still has the confidence of 34 per cent of Egyptians. But confidence doesn’t equal support, and it’s not possible to positively spin this number when the poll also shows that half of all Egyptians want the Brotherhood to be banned and 83 per cent say the Morsi government has some “responsibility for the current problems facing Egypt today”.
While 79 per cent say that “national reconciliation should be an important goal for Egypt”, a plurality of all Egyptians see the behaviour of the Brotherhood as “the biggest obstacle to reconciliation”.
One columnist made note of findings that showed 51 per cent of Egyptians said that “it was incorrect of the army to depose Morsi” as president, that 46 per cent said they were “worse off” since the July 3 military action and that support for the military had dropped from over 90 per cent in June to 70 per cent in our most recent poll.
What that writer failed to note was that the military’s decision to depose Mr Morsi and support for the military, itself, was mainly opposed by the one-third of Egyptians who said they had confidence in the Brotherhood. Among the other two-thirds of Egyptian society, the decision to depose Mr Morsi had overwhelming support and the military, as an institution, still has a near 90 per cent confidence rating.
As for those who said they were now “worse off”, those numbers were also skewed by Brotherhood supporters, 80 per cent of whom said they were “worse off”. Among the rest of Egyptians, more than 75 per cent said they were either “better off” or “about the same as they were before”.
As for the writer who expressed surprise at the US’s low 4 per cent favourable rating, or the tweeter who dismissed the high favourable ratings Egyptians gave to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as being “bought by billions” – our poll findings tell a different story. The US has almost always fared poorly in Egyptian public opinion largely due to US policy towards Palestine and the war in Iraq. Since we began our Arab world polling in 2002, except for the brief honeymoon that followed Barack Obama’s 2009 speech at Cairo University, Egyptian attitudes toward the US have consistently been low. In 2011 the US favourable rating in Egypt was just 5 per cent. In 2012, it was 10 per cent.
At the same time, our past polls show that Egyptians have had favourable views of Saudi Arabia and the UAE long before those nations made large contributions to the current Egyptian government. In fact, the only interesting finding in this area of the September poll is the significant drop in Egyptian support for Turkey and Qatar (despite the significant financial support Qatar had given to the Morsi government). This decline is most likely due to the support Turkey and Qatar gave to the Brotherhood.
The bottom line is that despite the efforts of the cherry-pickers and spinners, there is nothing in this poll to buttress the position of the Brotherhood. And while the military can find some evidence of support in the poll, there are also clear warning signs.
Here’s what I believe are the real top line findings from our survey. First and foremost, Egypt is deeply divided and polarised. But while that is true, 60 per cent of all Egyptians say they are hopeful about the country’s future (slightly down from the 68 per cent who were hopeful in July, but still significantly higher than the 36 per cent who were hopeful in May, before the military intervened). It is also important to note that 83 per cent of all Egyptians believe that their situation will improve in coming years.
At this point, two-thirds see themselves in a post-Morsi era. In our most recent poll, they said they want: a government that will “keep us safe and restore order”; the “road map” to be implemented creating a framework for “a more inclusive democracy”, and an amended constitution and a newly elected civilian government. They decidedly favour national reconciliation, even while they see the Brotherhood as the main obstacle to such an effort.
It is clear that the number one priority for most Egyptians is the improvement of their economy leading to job creation. Continued unrest only impedes progress in achieving that goal. There is a message here for all of Egypt’s political forces to avoid behaviours that further exacerbate the divisions that are paralysing the country. Egypt needs to turn the corner so that its government and people together can create the more prosperous, inclusive and hopeful future that most Egyptians still believe can be theirs.
James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute