Egyptians say economy tops their list of concerns, not democracy
The Washington Post
By Mary Beth Sheridan

CAIRO — A majority of Egyptians who supported this year’s revolution did so mainly because of their poor economic situation, not because they yearned for democracy, according to a U.S. government-funded poll to be released Sunday (PDF).

The survey (PDF) also underlines Egyptians’ sky-high expectations for their next government. Eight in 10 respondents said they anticipated their economic situation would be better in the coming year. That presents a daunting challenge for whomever takes office, with a recent drop in tourism and foreign investment exacerbating the country’s already severe economic problems.

The survey was carried out for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a pro-democracy group that is close to prominent U.S. Republicans. The poll’s mere existence is a sign of the change that has swept Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular revolution in February. Previously, U.S.-funded groups promoting democracy faced strict limits on their activities here.

The poll, obtained in advance by The Washington Post, offers a glimpse of a nation in uncharted political waters. Seven in 10 respondents said they had never voted in past elections, which were riddled with fraud. In contrast, almost everyone surveyed — 95 percent — said they were very or somewhat likely to cast ballots in parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

U.S. lawmakers and secular Egyptian politicians have expressed fears that the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood could make a strong showing in the upcoming elections because of its extensive grass-roots network. But most of those surveyed — 65 percent — said they had no idea which party they would back.

And only 15 percent said their political opinions were strongly influenced by religious figures, with many more citing family members and military leaders.

Scott Mastic, the Middle East director for IRI, said the poll would help Egyptian political parties, civil society groups and others understand the public mood.

The survey captured Egyptians’ enormous enthusiasm for the revolution and the resignation of Mubarak. But, Mastic added, “the poll shows some very practical real-world issues, like the economic situation,” at the top of citizens’ list of concerns.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they supported the protests in January and February because of unhappiness over low living standards or a shortage of jobs. In contrast, just 19 percent named a lack of democracy.

Anxious to respond to the public’s anger, Egypt’s interim military government has increased subsidies for consumer goods such as fuel and food. It has also supported the prosecution of several senior officials from the Mubarak regime. In the most recent case, former finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali was convicted in absentia on corruption charges Saturday and given a 30-year sentence.

The poll found that two-thirds of respondents wanted Egypt to be closer to the United States than to Iran. But that result does not reflect the ambiguity many Egyptians feel about the U.S. government, which was a strong backer of Mubarak. A poll earlier this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that only 20 percent of Egyptians had a favorable view of the United States.

The IRI survey was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and overseen by Williams and Associates, a Massachusetts firm. It consisted of 1,200 interviews done from April 14 to 27. It has a 2.78 percent margin of error, IRI said.

Up ArrowTop