Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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In Egypt, Obama Even Less Popular Than Bush Was: New Pew Poll

by Elliott Abrams
May 23, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010. (Courtesy REUTERS/Jason Reed)


There are many ways to measure the success of American foreign policy, and popularity is not necessarily the best one.

But when an administration and a president start out as Mr. Obama did, in essence reviling his predecessor’ policies in the Arab world and assuring Arabs that he had a new and better way, it is striking if the product is less popularity.

And that is the case in Egypt. A new Pew poll says that while Bush’s popularity in Egypt in his last year in office, 2008, was 22 percent, today Obama’s rating has fallen even lower–to 16 percent.

The same poll contains much interesting data. For example, only 39 percent of Egyptians think things are better now than when Mubarak ruled the country; only 29 percent expect that their economy will improve in the coming year. These numbers should keep President Morsi up at night.

The numbers on democracy are somewhat cheering. As the Pew narrative notes, “Two-in-three Egyptians [66%] believe democracy is the best form of government, while just 21% think that in some circumstances a non-democratic form of government can be preferable.” Asked whether democracy or a strong leader is more important, democracy wins 60 to 36 percent. Moreover “by a slender margin, Egyptians tend to prioritize democracy over stability. About half (51%) say it is more important for Egypt to have a democratic government, even if there is some risk of political instability. Slightly fewer (43%) believe it is more important to have a stable government, even if there is some risk it will not be fully democratic. However, the percentage who prioritize stability has increased since 2011, when just 32% held this view.” I would have expected higher numbers prizing stability, given Egypt’s history in the last few years.

When asked what their highest priorities are, 83 percent of Egyptians say improved economic conditions– but 81 percent say a fair judiciary, 60 percent say uncensored media, and 51 percent say freedom of speech. Interestingly, 32 percent say freedom of religion for minorities is “very important” and an additional 49 percent say it is “somewhat important.” In a country that is only 10-15 percent Coptic (and some would say lower), those are impressive numbers. They suggest that the government could attain wide public support for defending the Copts from violence, which it has largely been unwilling to do. The very recent State Department report on religious freedom in Egypt says this: “the government generally failed to prevent, investigate, or prosecute crimes against members of religious minority groups, especially Coptic Christians, which fostered a climate of impunity. In some cases, government authorities reacted slowly or with insufficient resolve while mobs attacked Christians and their property, or encouraged Christians to leave their homes.” President Morsi could do more; the failure is one of leadership.


Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Lon W.

    That’s just plain shame that an American President (putting aside partisan politics) can be looked upon so poorly. Maybe the new dilemma will be to either slash our Egyptian Foreign Aid or pump more money into the Egyptian pockets. Would their approval of our President rub off on the approval rating of their own Presidential “Brother”? Do not know myself, yet am aware of the importance of Eygpt and its proximity to the other countries that have been emboldened by this new era of “peace and love” that the Arab Spring has ushered into the Near East.

  • Posted by Phillip

    “And that is the case in Egypt. A new Pew poll says that while Bush’s popularity in Egypt in his last year in office, 2008, was 22 percent, today Obama’s rating has fallen even lower–to 16 percent.”

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but your entire premise, based on the notion that President Obama has an “approval rating” in Egypt of 16% is just downright wrong.

    I assume you pulled the 16% from the poll question about favorable or unfavorable opinions of the US. That isn’t the same as a popularity poll for the president.

    It’s even more troubling that you make this false equivalency when another item on the questionnaire specifically addresses President Obama, finding that 26% of Egyptians have confidence in him. While this number is impressive, it’s much better than the 16% you falsely claim.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Here is the poll: “Overwhelmingly negative attitudes toward America and Israel persist in Egypt. Just 16% have a favorable view of the U.S., lower than the 27% registered in 2009 shortly after President Obama took office, and lower than the 22% who expressed a positive opinion of the U.S. in 2008, President George W. Bush’s final year in the White House. Only 26% say they have confidence that Obama will generally do the right thing in world affairs, while 72% lack confidence in the American leader. Ratings for Obama have steadily declined since 2009, when Egyptians were almost evenly divided on the newly elected American president.” And this is not merely an Egyptian phenomenon, but is occurring through the Arab world, as other Pew and also Zogby polls have shown.

  • Posted by stephen albert

    We can argue about methodology. However. the answer to three questions might clarify the issue.

    a) What exactly is President Obama’s strategy when it comes to relations with Egypt?

    b) How has his thinking about the Middle East changed in the wake of the Arab Spring?

    c) If a similar poll were taken in Syria what would President Obama’s approval rating be?

    This really isn’t just about President Obama. I’m a Canadian. My government”s reaction to the slaughter in Syria and the rise of extremists in the Middle East is no more serious than your government’s is

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