Two and a half years after demonstrations erupted in Tahrir Square leading to the downfall of the Mubarak government and one year into the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, we polled 5,029 Egyptians nationwide to assess: the public’s mood; their confidence in the country’s institutions; their satisfaction with the performance of the Morsi government; and their hopes for the future.
What our findings reveal is a deeply divided society fractured not along demographic lines, but on the basis of ideology and religion. The two main Islamic parties (the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party) appear to have the confidence of just under 30 percent of all Egyptian adults.
The major opposition groups (the National Salvation Front and the April 6th Movement) combined have a somewhat larger support base claiming the confidence of almost 35 percent of the adult population, while the remaining almost 40 percent of the population appear to have no confidence in either the government or any of the political parties. They are a “disaffected plurality.”
These three groups define the deep divide that manifests itself on most issues. For example, more than 90 percent of those who identify with the Islamic parties say they are “better off ” today than they were five years ago, while more than 80 percent of those associated with the opposition and the “disaffected plurality” claim that they are “worse off.” And while the overwhelming majority of those associated with the Islamic parties retain hope in the promise of the Arab Spring, the rest of the society now says they are disappointed.
The very same gap between these groups can be found in response to most other questions: support for the constitution; confidence in the Morsi government; the performance of the government in providing economic opportunity and needed services, guaranteeing freedom, and keeping the country safe. In almost every one of these areas, only about one-quarter of the electorate expresses some degree of approval with the actions of the government, while almost three-quarters disapprove—with the support for the government coming almost exclusively from those who express some confidence in the Islamic parties and the rest of the population nearly unanimous in their disapproval.
What also comes through quite clearly is a crisis in leadership. Of the nine living Egyptian figures covered in our poll (including all those who ran for president and/or who lead important groups in the country), none are viewed as credible by more than a third of the electorate, with most seen as credible by only a quarter. In fact, only Bassem Yousef, a popular TV satirist, is seen as credible by a majority of all Egyptians.
At the same time, none of the four major political parties can claim to have the confidence of more than 29 percent of the population. And a disturbing one in five appear to have fallen into despair, now saying “it makes no difference, because little will change in Egypt.”
What emerges from our findings is a portrait of a post-Tahrir Egypt in crisis. Despite having been elected by a minority of the overall electorate, our poll shows that one year ago Mohamed Morsi was being given the benefit of the doubt by a majority of all Egyptians—with 57 percent saying his victory was either “a positive development” or “the result of a democratic election and the results need to be respected.” Today, that sup- port has dropped to only 28 percent—almost all of it coming from those who support his Muslim Brotherhood party. And yet despite only claiming minority support, the president and his party now hold most of the levers of executive and legislative decision-making. In addition, there is growing concern of still more over-reach by the presidency with a strong majority expressing the concern that “the Muslim Brotherhood intends to Islamize the state and control its executive powers.”
The opposition to the president, representing more than 70 percent of the overall society though uniformly dis- satisfied with Morsi’s policies and his performance, still does not appear to have either the organizational capacity or the unity necessary to make change—this, despite the fact that a strong majority of mainly oppositionists and “disaffecteds” believe that they would be “able to provide a better political alternative than the current government.”
While division defines much of the poll’s findings, there were a few areas where consensus could be found. The late presidents Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdul Nasser receive extraordinarily high ratings from all groups. More importantly, the army also receives strong approval ratings from all sectors and parties, with the judiciary following closely behind. These two institutions can act as buffers muting the presidency’s tendency to over-reach, but while a majority of supporters of the opposition parties and those in the camp of the “disaffected plurality” would like the army to play a larger role, there is not strong support for military intervention in civil affairs.
What to do next? Two options for moving forward receive the support of a majority of Egyptians: scrap- ping the constitution and holding immediate parliamentary elections. But there is deep division between the Islamic parties and the opposition in response to both. One proposal, however, achieves near consensus agreement from all the groups—an overwhelming majority across the board support convening “a real national dialogue” as the way to start the process of healing the divide and solving the country’s problems.
James Zogby is president and founder of the Arab American Institute.