In February 2011, hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Egyptians gathered in the streets to protest the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who was subsequently forced out of office by the military and, eventually, imprisoned. The protesters cheered for democracy.
This July, hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Egyptians gathered in the streets to protest the one-year rule of President Mohamed Morsi, who was subsequently forced out of office by the military. The protesters cheered perhaps less for democracy than for the military, under which, on Thursday, Mubarak was freed from prison and taken to a military hospital; officials say he will soon be placed under house arrest.
A number of very important things have happened in the past 30 months that help explain the jarring change from a popular movement against the military-backed Mubarak to a popular movement in support of a military that oversaw Mubarak's release. One of them has to do with the public backlash against Morsi, an Islamist allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose failures were significant. Others have to do with growing nationalism among the Egyptian "liberals" who led both protest movements. And there are others.
But here's one that might surprise you: Some Egyptians seem to increasingly believe that ousting Mubarak has not helped their country, and may have made things worse. That view is of course far from universal and many still detest Mubarak. "What we have seen in the past year has made me long for Mubarak’s rule," one Egyptian man told the Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan and Abigail Hauslohner, who reported that many Egyptians favored the July 3 coup as part of a larger, dramatic shift in public opinion that was underscored with Mubarak's release.
Here are a few key numbers from a May Pew report. It's easy to imagine that these trends may have increased since then, given the surge in pro-military nationalism and the scale of the backlash against Morsi. And a Gallup poll, results from which are below, seemed to confirm as much.
1. In 2011, 77 percent of Egyptians said it was good that Mubarak had resigned.
2. In 2012, only 44 percent said Egypt was better off without Mubarak. This May, it was 39 percent.
3. Satisfaction with "where the country is going" is back around the same levels as in 2010; it was 28 percent in May of that year and 30 percent this May. It briefly spiked to 65 percent in 2011, after Mubarak's ouster.
4. After two years of post-Mubarak optimism about the economy, Egyptians are again most likely to believe it will get worse.
Here are the key numbers from a Gallup poll conducted in July. It seems to show, depending on how you look at it, either a growing sense that the 2011 revolution was a mistake or a growing sense that maybe Mubarak wasn't so bad after all.
5. Only 14 percent of Egyptians say their country is better off than it was before Mubarak resigned. A staggering 80 percent say it's worse off.
6. While a majority (57 percent) say that media freedom has improved since Mubarak fell, most say the economy has gotten worse. Seventy-one percent say private-sector job opportunities have deteriorated; 68 percent say the same about public-sector jobs.
It seems that, to the extent there is any softening of public opinion toward Mubarak, it has more to do with the failures of the two governments that came after him (first the military, then Morsi) than with Mubarak in particular. Still, that's just how popular opinion can work sometimes. Perhaps a lesson for Morsi is that, if he wants to be freed from wherever the military is currently holding him, he should hope for continued turmoil in the Egyptian economy.