With the release of the first major polling data after the uprising in Egypt removed then President Hosni Mubarak, it is worth taking stock of the information provided – as well as some which has been left unmentioned. The headlines of the poll are that the majority of those polled support legislation derived from a strict adherence to Islamic sources, as well support for democratic government and law and order. At the same time there is overwhelming positive opinion for the head of the Military as well as the Military itself, along with the April 6th youth movement, the Muslim Brotherhood and Amr Mousa, with negative perceptions of Mubarak (obviously) and the man the public ending up perceiving to be his enforcer Omar Suleiman (much to the chagrin of the United States who initially had him penciled in for the role of the face of "change"). The negative perception of the United States has not altered, and the majority of Egyptians are (still) unhappy with the Camp David accord with Israel. Another key point from the data highlights the fact that most of the support for Islamic government and the "fundamentalists" come from middle and high income brackets, which is an early indicator of the quandary US foreign policy makers will quickly find themselves in unless they reconcile themselves to dealing with a more overtly Islamic, and anti-Israel, North Africa than before. The more affluent are also much more appreciative of the response of the United States to events in the Middle East than those of the lower income, indicating that there is hope for US relations in the region if such a reconciliation occurs.
The report is also interesting as it highlights the continued imposition of Westernised categorisations, whether in politics or related to Islam, such as the question of whether the person either sympathised with or opposed “Islamic fundamentalists” (? – at least they had enough shame not to ask the person directly whether they were one of those “fundamentalists” or not), and the usual question about whether they supported a democratic government rather than any other form, which basically can be summarised in another question asked – do you prefer a democratic government or a strong leader. What is lacking is of course what is meant by a democratic government, or indeed what is meant by a fundamentalist, rendering such questions almost useless by themselves.
I have previously argued that Middle Eastern support for democracy is best understood as the desire to have an accountable leadership. This is reflected in the top 4 future concerns for those polled as being improved economic conditions, a fair judicial system, that anyone can openly hold the government accountable (translated to “Freedom of speech” by the report authors, which is misleading as exemplified in a previous Pew poll which also showed overwhelming support for the death penalty for those who left Islam), and then law and order. Honest elections come in fifth. All of these are claimed as characteristics of democracy (and it is unlikely that many people would differ with such aspirations) but miss the crucial nexus which defines democracy as understood by those doing the polling – that people are ultimately sovereign to legislate as they please, which contradicts the majority support of those polled for legislation to be strictly derived from Islam.
Another interesting aspect of the report is its data related to the perception of the various forces in the Egyptian political arena, especially with the now openly politically role of the military that had been hidden behind the Mubarak regime. As mentioned in the first post that launched this blog, the response to the uprisings in Egypt was being managed between the Military and the American government in order to put together an effective mechanism which would ensure any change would maintain the essential character of the regime, irrespective of where Mubarak ends up, which could be continued under the veneer of some trappings of “liberal democracy” in the future. This has effectively happened, with “the final card of the disposition of Mubarak – whether through symbolic means or otherwise – being pulled out at an opportune time to leave the Egyptian people feeling that they had achieved something” having come out of the hat with his arrest along with his two sons on April 12th. As planned, the military junta has come out of this smelling like roses, with Gen. Mohammad Tantawi, a man described by mid-ranking Egyptian army officers as completely incompetent and “Mubarak’s poodle”, becoming the de-facto head of state – scoring a massive 90% approval rating, having shown his loyalty could be sacrificed for the "greater good" of maintaining the regime (and his own position).
What the report fails to mention is that criticism of the transitional Military Council generally, and Tantawi specifically, is outlawed and has resulted in jail sentences for those critical of the military. There were previously also pressures to restrict any negative reporting regarding the military – with a leaked letter presumably sent to the various local media outlets dated March 22nd asking them “to refrain from publishing any items –stories, news, announcements, complaints, advertisement, pictures—pertaining to the Armed Forces or to Commanders of the Armed Forces” until they had referred to “the Morale Affairs Department and the Department of Military Intelligence and Information Gathering” in order to receive instructions.
In summary, it currently looks as though the “political jujitsu” to exhaust the masses through protests while promoting the image of the military by offering up sacrificial lambs is paying off, but the future is less certain. While there is a relief in the arrest of Mubarak and his clan, there remains doubts in the minds of some activists regarding the intentions of the Military. The fact that the emergency law remains in place, and that the existing constitution is still sovereign – with its contradictory claim that Islam is the basis of the legislation, while political parties based upon religion are banned – means that the post-Mubarak framework is still essentially the same as the pre-Mubarak framework, minus some “bad-apples”. Whether this will be enough for the Egyptian masses over the long-term is not known at this juncture, especially as the sacrificial lamb market is drying up, but the polling data linked to foreign policy which shows an overwhelming majority dislike towards the United States and majority support for the annulment of the Camp David agreement with Israel means that whatever the shape and character of the regime once it settles, it is unlikely that the Americans will be able to rely upon the same level of acquiensce from the Egyptian government as it did in the past without altering its own behavior in the region such as a reappraisal of its position with Israel, something currently being debated across the pages of the Foreign Policy journal.
With the opening of the political space, and the necessity to have a government which is at a minimum superficially more responsive to the demands of the people, the future performance of Egypt and its role both in the region and internationally remains in the balance.