Poll: Egyptians have unfavorable view of U.S., are divided on fundamentalists

Egyptians are deeply skeptical about the United States and its role in their country, but they are also divided in their attitudes about Islamic fundamentalists, according a poll released Monday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Most Egyptians distrust the United States and want to renegotiate their peace treaty with Israel, the poll found. But only 31 percent say they sympathize with fundamentalists, while 30 percent say they sympathize with those who disagree with fundamentalists. An additional 26 percent said they had mixed views.

The poll is the first comprehensive look at attitudes of Egyptians since protests forced President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30-year reign in February. The numbers reveal a society that overwhelmingly agrees that Mubarak was bad for the country but is divided about what the future should look like.

Although 75 percent were positive about the Muslim Brotherhood, which was officially banned under Mubarak and is now the strongest political organization in the country, almost as many — 70 percent — felt positively about the youth-based April 6 movement that was mostly secular and was one of the key organizers of the protests.

The poll found that 39 percent of Egyptians believe the U.S. response to the upheaval in Egypt was negative, almost double the 22 percent who said it was positive. But many Egyptians — 35 percent — said that the U.S. impact on what happened in Egypt was neither positive nor negative, suggesting that, to them, the United States might not have had much to do with the situation either way.

The United States initially struggled to adopt the right tone toward the protests, at times sending conflicting messages about how quickly Mubarak, its longtime ally, needed to step down, while consistently saying that the decision was in the hands of Egyptians.

Egyptian attitudes toward the United States more generally stayed about the same between 2010 and 2011 — with just 20 percent holding a favorable opinion of the United States this year, an increase of three percentage points from 2010, and 79 percent holding an unfavorable opinion, a decrease of three percentage points.

More Egyptians — 64 percent — said they had low or no confidence in President Obama in 2011 than they did last year, up five percentage points.

And 54 percent want to annul the peace treaty with Israel, compared with 36 percent who want to maintain it.

In a sign of the enduring respect Egyptians have for their military, as well as their gratitude that generals ultimately sided with protesters over Mubarak, those polled were overwhelmingly unified in their support for the head of the transitional military council running the country, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.

Ninety percent held positive views of him, and 88 percent had positive views of the military in general. They were almost as unified in their opposition to Mubarak. Only 13 percent held favorable views of him; 86 percent held unfavorable views.

A majority of the country wants Egypt’s laws to strictly follow the Koran — 62 percent — and even among those who disagree with Islamic fundamentalists, the number only drops to 47 percent.

The April 6 youth organizers have struggled to determine how best to translate their successes into influence in the political future of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, benefits from a preexisting political organization in a country that has few of them. New political parties seem to be announced every week, and the likely outcomes of the September parliamentary and November presidential elections are unclear.

That might be why only 41 percent of those surveyed felt that free and fair elections were very likely, as compared with 59 percent who thought they were only somewhat likely or unlikely. Support for individual political parties is very divided, and highest number of those surveyed — 21 percent — said they didn’t know which party should lead the next government.

Of the current presidential candidates, Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister under Mubarak, is the favorite, commanding an 89 percent favorable rating. Ayman Nour, an opposition politician, was second among the candidates named, with 70 percent viewing him favorably. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former leader of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is a well-known face in the West but is regarded as an outsider by many in Egypt, had a 57 percent favorable rating.

The pollsters conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Egyptians across the country over a period of two weeks at the end of March and beginning of April, and the survey has a margin of error of four percentage points.

The poll concluded before the military killed at least two protesters in Tahrir Square, and also before Mubarak, his two sons and several of his associates were taken into custody for questioning about their roles in corruption and in the deaths of protesters in January and February.

Michael Birnbaum is The Post’s Moscow bureau chief. He previously served as the Berlin correspondent and an education reporter.
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