- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
If you believe the polls, we could be witnessing the beginning of the end of Islamist dominance in Egypt. Two new surveys suggest Egyptians are losing patience with the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsy.
First, a word of caution about polling in Egypt: It’s not easy. If the public opinion surveys conducted before the presidential election were accurate, Egyptians would now be living under President Amr Moussa. But these latest polls should be taken seriously for two reasons: They were conducted by organizations that have long experience working in Egypt, and both have gauged Morsy’s approval rating over time — and now find a clear downward trend.
The first piece of evidence is a survey conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research, which found that the percentage of Egyptians approving of Morsy’s performance dipped to 42 percent, while those disapproving of his time in office rose to 52 percent. The center has recorded a dramatic decline in Morsy’s popularity from his early days in office, when over 70 percent of Egyptians approved of his performance. A majority, 54 percent, also said they favored early presidential elections.
The second poll, conducted by Zogby, contains even worse news for Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood. It found what it described as a "crisis of leadership," where Morsy enjoyed the support of only 28 percent of Egyptians. Meanwhile, a whopping 61 percent of respondents say they are worse off than they were five years ago, and 72 percent disagreed with the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to democracy.
But what opposition force could emerge to replace Morsy? Zogby divides the Egyptian electorate into three blocs: The Islamic Tendency, represented by the Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party; the Organized Oppositionists, including the National Salvation Front (NSF) and the April 6 Movement; and the Silent Disaffected Plurality. Of those groups, only the Brotherhood and the Nour Party are actual political movements — the NSF is a conglomeration of opposition parties that struggles to work in a coherent fashion, April 6 is a youth movement that has resolutely refused to transform into a political party, and the "disaffected plurality" are, by definition, represented by nobody.
Zogby’s findings confirm the opposition’s failure to rally around a viable replacement for Morsy. Respondents gave universally negative marks to the president’s rivals: 70 percent of respondents said former presidential contender Ahmed Shafiq was not a credible leader, while 81 percent said the same about opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei. The only living figure who received high marks is comedian Bassem Youssef, who has emerged as one of the Islamists’ most prominent critics. But imagining him as the political leader of the opposition seems more likely to be the basis for a sketch on his famous satire program, rather than reality.
Egyptian politics today isn’t a popularity contest — it’s a competition to see which group can get organized most effectively. And by this measure, the Brotherhood is still winning: The movement doesn’t have to be popular if it can rally its cadres around a cause and to the ballot box. Until the opposition builds an organization that can compete, the Islamists will remain on top — regardless of what the polls say.