x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egyptians support neither Morsi nor opposition leaders

It remains to be seen what June 30 will bring, but regardless of the outcome, it will be a momentous day in Egypt's contemporary political development.

Sunday, June 30 will mark Mohammed Morsi's first anniversary as president of Egypt. It is also the date set for nationwide demonstrations protesting Mr Morsi's increasingly authoritarian leadership and the role his Muslim Brotherhood is playing in post-Tahrir Egypt.

The June 30 protest project is called Tamarrod (rebel). Organisers have, at last report, collected over 15 million signatures on petitions endorsing their protest, and are convening organisation meetings nationwide before the big day. Expectations are running high that Tamarrod may replicate the government-changing events of January and February of 2011.

Whether Tamarrod succeeds or fizzles, its early successes reflect the fact that the Morsi government is in deep trouble. A poll of 5,029 Egyptians adults, conducted recently by Zogby Research Services (ZRS, of which I am managing director), found that Mr Morsi, his government, and his party have all suffered a dramatic loss of support and legitimacy.

One year ago, despite having been elected by a minority of eligible voters, Mr Morsi was being given the benefit of the doubt: 57 per cent of Egyptians then said his victory was either "a positive development" or "the result of a democratic election and the results need to be respected".

Today that support level is only 28 per cent, almost all of it coming from those who identify with his Brotherhood-backed party.

Despite this small base of support, the president and his party now hold most of the levers of executive and legislative decision-making authority, and are using them to crack down on the press, civil society and most forms of dissent. There are also worrisome signs of still more over-reach.

As a result, over 70 per cent of the electorate now express concern that "the Muslim Brotherhood intends to Islamise the state and control its executive powers".

What emerges from the ZRS findings is a portrait of a post-Tahrir Egypt in crisis, with a deeply divided electorate. The poll suggests that the major opposition groups (the National Salvation Front and the April 6th Movement) combined have a larger potential support base than Mr Morsi. The opposition, though repeatedly out-organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party in elections, can claim the confidence of almost 35 per cent of adults. The remaining almost- 40 per cent of the population, while sharing the opposition's political views, appear to have no confidence in either the government or any opposition party. They are a "disaffected plurality".

The loss of confidence in the government can be seen in the responses to every question in the ZRS survey. An overwhelming majority believe Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood have failed in drafting and introducing a new constitution, providing economic opportunity and needed services, guaranteeing personal freedoms, and keeping the country safe.

In each of these areas, only about one quarter of the electorate expresses any approval of the government, while almost three-quarters disapprove. Almost all of those who approve also say they identify with the Brotherhood.

What also comes through clearly is that the opposition suffers from a crisis in leadership and organisation. Not one of nine prominent Egyptian figures covered in the poll - including all those who ran for president and/or who lead opposition parties - is viewed as credible by more than a third of the electorate.

Only Bassem Yousef, a popular TV satirist who has been indicted by the government and charged with insulting the "presidency" and Islam, is viewed as credible by a majority of Egyptians.

There were a few areas of consensus. The late president Anwar Sadat won extremely high ratings from all groups. More significantly, the army receives a 94 per cent positive rating, with the judiciary following closely behind. These two institutions have, at times, acted as buffers against presidential over-reach. (There is, however, no strong overall support for military intervention in civil affairs.)

What comes next? Immediate elections for a new parliament are supported by the Islamic parties, but rejected by most other Egyptians; a substantial majority say that they do not believe that new elections would be fair or transparent. The opposition, and a majority of the electorate, strongly favour scrapping the new constitution. But this is rejected by supporters of the Islamic parties.

The only proposal that receives near unanimous support from all groups is the convening of "a real national dialogue" -though it remains to be seen what such a dialogue might accomplish, given the existing polarisation.

One year after Mohammed Morsi's victory, Egypt is in crisis. The economy is a shambles, rights are being eroded, and a minority-supported party presides over a deeply fractured polity.

Into this arena comes the Tamarrod movement and its attempt to unite the opposition and organise the disaffected in a last-ditch effort to force needed change.

It remains to be seen what June 30 will bring, but regardless of the outcome, it will be a momentous day in Egypt's contemporary political development.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa