Americans have reached a near-unanimous verdict about what the United States should do with Egypt: Stay away.
A strong majority of U.S. adults think America should steer clear of Egypt after the military deposed President Mohamed Morsi, according to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
Most people are unsure if the Middle Eastern nation is a friend or foe, the survey found, an ambiguity that at least partially explains why Americans are reluctant to help the country as it writhes with violence. Even measures that fall well short of direct involvement, like offering greater financial assistance, fail to garner even meager support.
The findings are a warning to President Obama, should he consider stepping up the country’s involvement there. And it’s yet another reminder that after a decade-plus of wars, the American public remains deeply skeptical of any involvement, economically or militarily, abroad.
The Egyptian military’s decision to remove the unpopular Morsi from power has incited mass protests and violence, similar to those that marked the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. But despite the chaos that has ensued, Americans overwhelmingly say the United States should keep away. Seventy-eight percent of adults say the U.S. should “mostly stay out of events in Egypt and allow people there to resolve their differences.” The figure dwarfs the 16 percent who say the U.S. should “do more to try to shape the government in Egypt and promote an end to violence.”
The popularity of staying out of Egypt cuts across partisan, ideological, and demographic lines. Only 16 percent of both Republicans and Democrats think America should ramp up its involvement in Egypt. Demographically, college-educated white men were the most inclined to support Washington finding a way to bring about an end to violence. But only about one-quarter of them felt that way, compared with three-fourths who wanted the United States to stay out.
Americans are also cautious about helping Egypt in ways that are less hands-on – such as foreign aid. When asked how the country should adjust its financial commitment after the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi lost power to a new government, nearly half of respondents said the U.S. should either reduce aid or eliminate it all together. Only one-fifth of them said the level of financial support should stay the same, and less than 1 percent said the country should increase its aid. Nineteen percent said they didn’t know or declined to answer.
Foreign aid never polls well among voters, especially among conservatives eager to cut government spending. And in this case, even the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood – a party that has been reviled among many Republicans – failed to change minds. One-third of GOP members want to reduce assistance to Egypt, and another one-third want to completely eliminate the help. Just 12 percent wanted to keep support at the same level.
On this question, a small partisan split emerges. Democrats are more favorable to retaining the current amount of aid, although not by much. Twenty-two percent of them don’t want to change the amount of money sent to the imperiled nation. Thirty-two percent want to decrease it, while 27 percent want to do away with the help.
The public’s confusion about whether Egypt is an ally helps explain its eagerness to pare back support. Almost 90 percent of respondents either said they didn’t know how to classify Egypt, or rated its new government somewhere between a friend and enemy (67 percent said it fell somewhere in between). Six percent called the country a friend, while 5 percent called it an enemy.
The poll, conducted from July 11 to July 14, surveyed 1,002 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. It included an equal-parts mix of cell-phone and landline responses.
This article appears in the July 16, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.