James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Do Egyptians Dislike the United States?

by James M. Lindsay
May 8, 2012

Egypt-Flags-Americans-20120508 Supporters of Mursi, the Brotherhood's presidential candidate, wave the flags during a campaigning conference near Amr ibn al-Asin Mosque in Old Cairo. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/courtesy Reuters)

The Pew Global Attitudes Project is out with a new poll on what Egyptians think about politics a few weeks ahead of their historical presidential elections. Some of the results are interesting:

  • Egyptians like the idea of democracy. Two-thirds say it is preferable to other forms of government, and six-in-ten Egyptians say democracy is the form of government best suited to solving their problems.
  • Economics is job number one. Eight-in-ten Egyptians say that the government’s top priority should be improving economic conditions. So Egyptians look to be like other publics around the world that want their governments to produce jobs. The open question for Egypt, of course, is whether its new government will be able to make the tough choices needed to get the economy going again.
  • Egyptians think that Saudi Arabia provides the right model for the role of religion in government. By a margin of more than three-to-one (61 percent to 17 percent), Egyptians say Saudi Arabia provides a better model for the proper role of religion in government than Turkey does. The preference for the Saudi model seems to contradict the embrace of democracy. But Egyptians are hardly the first people to give pollsters conflicting answers.

The poll also contained a finding that comes as no surprise: Egyptians aren’t terribly fond of the United States. Only about one-in-five Egyptians (19 percent) has a favorable view of the United States. But the poll also contains a finding worth highlighting:

Despite these negative sentiments, a majority of Egyptians says either they want the U.S.-Egypt relationship to stay about as close as it has been in recent years (35 percent) or become even closer (20 percent), while 38 percent would like to see relations become less close.

So Egyptian attitudes toward the United States look to be deeply ambivalent. They can’t live with us; they don’t want to live without us. That spells danger for Washington’s diplomacy going forward. But it also spells opportunity.

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