x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Egyptians support their army but do not agree about US

The latest survey of Egyptians' attitude show enmity towards the US but retained faith in the Egyptian military to lead the country back to democracy

During the second half of July, my company Zogby Research Services conducted a face-to-face survey of 5,042 adults across Egypt.

We wanted to learn how they were reacting to developments in the post-Mohammed-Morsi era, and to know their assessment of the US-Egypt relationship.

We found that attitudes towards their internal political situation, and about their relationship with the US, are conflicted and in flux.

In our previous comparable survey, in May, 82 per cent of respondents said the 2011 revolution had made them hopeful, but that only 36 per cent remained hopeful when polled. Now, after Mr Morsi's unseating, the percentage of Egyptians who feel hopeful has jumped back up to 68 per cent.

As we anticipated in May, however, Egyptians are not of one mind regarding the military intervention. Predictably, those who support the Islamic parties favour restoring Mr Morsi to power, while Tamarrod backers and those aligned with secular parties say the military was right to depose Mr Morsi on July 3.

Despite this division, a remarkable 93 per cent of adults, including many Islamists, retain confidence in the military as an institution.

This is virtually unchanged from our May findings, in which 94 per cent of respondents expressed confidence in the military.

Also noteworthy is the degree to which confidence in the army contrasts with the lack of confidence in political parties - none of which can claim the approval of more than 30 per cent of the public. Aside from the army, the only entity to earn the support of more than 30 per cent of Egyptians is the Tamarrod movement, at 39 per cent.

Despite the strong public support for the military, however, almost two-thirds of respondents were in "wait-and-see" mode about whether the interim government will fulfil its promise to deliver a new constitution and a more inclusive democracy.

The July survey also reveals that Egyptians are deeply conflicted about the US role. President Barack Obama, who had earned high marks among Egyptians following his 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim World, has now dropped to a 3 per cent positive rating. Confidence in the US is at 1 per cent.

But Egyptians are divided on how important it is for their country to have good relations with the US: 48 per cent say it is important while 51 per cent say it is not. Only in one subgroup - supporters of the Tamarrod movement - does a clear majority say relations with the US really matter.

Two-thirds of all Egyptians feel that the US was too supportive of Mr Morsi, and over 80 per cent said they felt that "Egypt was harmed by the US policy of support for Mr Morsi".

Asked about their reactions to the calls by some US politicians to "suspend US aid until there is a legitimately elected government in Egypt", 18 per cent respond that "it makes me happy" while 24 per cent say "it makes me angry". But fully 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 to this 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 has been the prime beneficiary, while 21 per cent say it is the US - and 48 per cent say Israel that has benefited most from the post- Camp-David US aid to Egypt.

The question "to what extent do you feel that the US understands Egypt and the Egyptian people?" brought a revealing answer: 36 per cent said US has some understanding, while 62 per cent found little or no understanding.

These results show the profound challenges facing both the Egyptian military and the US. To retain high support, the military must deliver on its promise to restore order and to help to create a more inclusive political order.

The US, meanwhile, needs to understand that its role in Egypt has been seriously compromised. Perceived US meddling is not welcome, and 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 the concerns of most Egyptians.

In this period, US officials would do well to recall the measured approach taken by Mr Obama in his May 2011 post-Arab Spring speech.

Back then he offered wise counsel, noting that the US didn't start the Arab Spring and couldn't direct its outcome. What he suggested the US could do is to provide assistance, where it is needed, to help grow the economies and build the infrastructures of these societies in the midst of the dramatic changes they were experiencing.

Our July poll shows that the US still has a reservoir of goodwill to draw upon, with 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 dictate terms in the internal affairs of Egypt.

 

James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa