Hopes for regional stability in a new Egypt are muted in the latest Pew research poll, which found just over half of Egyptians surveyed favor annulling the country's peace treaty with Israel. The White House also comes under criticism for its handling of anti-government movements in the Arab world.
Fifty-four percent of Egyptians questioned for the Pew Global Attitudes Project want the peace treaty signed in 1979 canceled. Only 36 percent want it maintained. Opposition to the accord is strongest among the poor and less educated.
Anti-Americanism has only gone up: 79 percent of those surveyed say they have an unfavorable opinion of the United States, and 49 percent of those hold that sentiment intensely. There was a 9-percentage-point increase since spring 2009.
President Obama doesn't fare much better. Two in three (64 percent) Egyptians have little or no confidence in him, a 5-point increase in his negative rating since last year.
Current anti-Americanism and anti-Obama sentiment in Egypt predated this year’s Arab Spring. But Washington’s handling of the recent democratic upheaval in the Middle East did little to improve the U.S. standing.
When Pew asked about the American response to the political situation in Egypt, a plurality (39 percent) of Egyptians said the U.S. has had a negative impact, while just 22 percent said it has had a positive effect. Moreover, half (52 percent) of Egyptians disapprove of how Obama is dealing with the calls for political change in nations such as Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Libya. And a plurality of those who disapprove say Obama has shown too little support for protesters in the Arab street who are calling for change.
Given this sentiment, it is little wonder only one in six (15 percent) Egyptians want closer ties with the United States and 43 percent want a more distant relationship.
But the White House and the State Department can point to some support among younger and better-educated Egyptians. Half of those under age 30 (51 percent) and those with a college education (52 percent) give Obama a positive grade for his handling of calls for change in the Middle East.
The ouster of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak has clearly energized the Egyptian people. Two in three Egyptians (65 percent) are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, a reversal of opinion from last year, and 57 percent are optimistic about the future. Egyptians seem committed to democracy: 54 percent say a democratic government is important even at the risk of political instability. And 84 percent think the elections slated for this fall will be free and fair.
In those elections, the public figures who may stand the best chance of becoming Egypt’s next leader are Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, current chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, despite recent protests in Cairo calling for his removal, and Amr Moussa, current head of the Arab League. Nine in 10 Egyptians have a favorable view of Tantawi (90 percent) and Moussa (89 percent). Tantawi’s support comes from lower-income Egyptians, while Moussa has the backing of the wealthy. Former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei trails, with only 57 percent of the public giving him a positive rating.
Western concerns that fundamentalists could gain power through the ballot box are not borne out by the Pew findings. Less than a third (31 percent) of Egyptians sympathize with Islamic fundamentalism. And while three in four (75 percent) express a favorable opinion of the long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, only 17 percent of the public would like to see it lead the next government. And 70 percent of Egyptians express a positive opinion of the April 6 Youth Movement, a largely secular group associated with protesters in Tahrir Square earlier this year.
One cautionary note in the Pew survey for those techno-enthusiasts who attribute the success of the Egyptian revolution to social media. An overwhelming 84 percent of Egyptian Internet users claim they use Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. And nearly as many (79 percent) Internet users say they have gotten news about the political situation in Egypt from social networking sites. But social media has largely been an information source for the wealthy and the highly educated. Two-thirds (65 percent) of Egyptians do not use the Internet or e-mail.
The Pew survey of 1,000 Egyptian adults took place between March 24 and April 7, 2011, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
This article appears in the April 25, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.