What Do Egyptians Want?

Heading into their first post-revolution election for parliament, 51 percent of Egyptians had not yet made up their minds on what party to vote for. Yet the race appeared to be dominated by two long-established political groups–the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and the New Wafd, a liberal party with roots in Egypt’s nationalist movement.

Heading into their first post-revolution election for parliament, 51 percent of Egyptians had not yet made up their minds on what party to vote for. Yet the race appeared to be dominated by two long-established political groups–the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and the New Wafd, a liberal party with roots in Egypt’s nationalist movement.

The reading comes from a series of three surveys conducted in August, September and October by the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and supported by the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI). “Despite the hardship, tensions and societal division in the Egyptian public, there is a general sense of optimism in Egyptian society,” said a DEDI report based on the first two surveys. “A majority believes that the political and economic future of Egypt is bright.” The October survey indicated that 76 percent of Egyptians intended to vote in the parliamentary election.

According to the survey, the Freedom and Justice party held relatively steady in October with 35.7 percent support, with the Wafd following with 26.2 percent. Next was the Salafist Light party (Al-Nour) of conservative Islamists, with 8.9 percent, and the centrist Justice party (Al-Adl), launched by several protest groups, with 5.2 percent.

With a presidential election promised by June 2012, the poll gave a commanding lead of 38.9 percent among decided voters to Amr Moussa, a foreign minister in the regime of ousted former President Hosni Mubarak who spent the last decade as secretary general of the Arab League.  Sixty-two percent had a favorable view of Moussa, compared to 25 who had an unfavorable view.

The poll showed a mere 2.9 percent support for Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal Nobel Peace laureate who emerged as a sharp critic of the Mubarak regime. ElBaradei also demonstrated a significant 70 percent unfavorable rating among the Egyptians surveyed, in contrast with only a 13 percent favorable rating. Receiving only 1.5 percent support was Abdel Moneim Abou El-Foutouh, a former head of the Muslim Brotherhood who broke away to run for president in defiance of the group’s policy against presenting a candidate.

In the September survey, which was conducted well before the most recent protests led to the fall of the interim government of Prime Minister Essam Sharraf, 65 percent said they “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that protesters should be prevented from massing in Tahrir Square, while 34 percent disagreed. In contrast with the protesters’ calls for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to step down from power, 86 percent of the respondents gave the SCAF a positive rating in its handling of the transition, according to a DEDI report based on the first two surveys.

On the fate of Mubarak, 67 percent said that his trial should be completed no matter what the outcome. Seventy-eight percent said they would accept any outcome, while 9 percent insisted on the death penalty, 6 percent on imprisonment and 7 percent on acquittal.

Among other key survey findings:

Of the parties, the Wafd enjoyed the best positive/negative ratio, with 46 percent of Egyptians giving it a favorable rating and 21 percent unfavorable. The Freedom and Justice party, by contrast, posted a 31 percent negative showing against a 47 percent positive rating. All other parties demonstrated a 50-50 rating or worse.

Security, unemployment and inflation are the issues of top concern to Egyptians as they go to the polls. Among the 2,400 Egyptians polled, 36 percent listed security and stability as a main issue, up from 27 percent in August. Unemployment also jumped, from 18 percent to 26 percent. Inflation is a concern of 19 percent, but that figure represents a decline from 27 percent in August and 23 percent in September.

On security, the September poll showed that 73 percent cited robbery as a problem in their neighborhood, 66 percent cited bullying and illegal drugs as a problem, and 65 percent cited illegal weapons as a problem.

But the surveys showed that Egyptians were nonetheless relatively optimistic about the future. Sixty-seven percent believed that Egypt’s economy would improve a year after the January 25 revolution, and 63 percent felt their own family’s economic situation would improve.

According to the DEDI report, 41 percent of respondents preferred Saudi Arabia as a state model, compared with 10 percent who preferred the United States (the same percentage received by China), and 9 percent who preferred Turkey. Only 1 percent of Egyptians preferred Iran as a model.

In foreign relations, 74 percent of Egyptians in the survey favored pursuing close ties with other Arab states, while only 5 percent favored doing that with the European Union and 4 percent with the “United States and Western countries.” Eighty-one percent said they had very or somewhat positive feelings toward Saudi Arabia, with 73 percent of those citing the Kingdom being a model for the Islamic community. In the September survey, only 4 percent favored preparing for war with Israel to support Palestinians, but 62 percent said that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty should be amended and 15 percent said it should be terminated either immediately or gradually.

Tom Plofchan is a graduate student in the Middle East Studies Center at the American University in Cairo. He is writing a Master’s thesis on the Egyptian elections.

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