Marc Lynch

Egyptian public opinion on Obama visit

 What did Egyptians think about Obama’s visit?  The picture which emerges from the press and from major political movements is decidedly mixed, with appreciation for the effort mixed with skepticism and a demand that words be met with deeds.   I hope to write an in-depth summary of the public discourse over the next few days.  ...

 What did Egyptians think about Obama’s visit?  The picture which emerges from the press and from major political movements is decidedly mixed, with appreciation for the effort mixed with skepticism and a demand that words be met with deeds.   I hope to write an in-depth summary of the public discourse over the next few days.  But what about the wider public?   The Information and Decision Support Center for the Egyptian government did a snap public opinion survey after President Obama’s speech, and thanks to the Arabist we can see the results:

  • 81% of Egyptians surveyed were aware of Obama’s visit and speech, including 92% of those in urban governorates.  93% said they learned about the speech on television, with the internet presumably falling into the 2% "other" residual category. 
  • 48% said the Palestinian issue was the most important issue Obama addressed in his speech, followed by 22% who said US-Muslim relations, 20% who said Islam in general, 18% who said Iraq, 7% who said Iran, and 3% who said democracy (among others — multiple answers were allowed so it did not add up to 100%).  The priority of the Palestinian issue will surprise nobody except those who have for years insisted that it isn’t a priority against all available evidence. The Egyptian government is no doubt pleased at the low level of interest in democracy, but perhaps less pleased by the equally low level of concern about Iran despite months of its relentless anti-Iranian agitation and propaganda (a finding which matches that of numerous other surveys, supporting the view that the anti-Iranian focus in these Arab states is concentrated in the leadership rather than in the public). 
  • 37% said they totally believed what Obama said while only 5% said they totally disbelieved him, while 41% partially believed and 17% were undecided. 
  • 78% said the visit would improve US-Egyptian relations and 1% said it would make relations worse, with virtually identical numbers for US relations with the Islamic world (77% better, 1% worse).   

As I wrote a few weeks ago in depth, there are all kinds of issues with such public opinion surveys in the Arab world, and they should be treated with appropriate caution and weighed against other evidence (American officials reportedly debriefed a selection of Egyptian activists and opinion-leaders, for instance).  But they are still better than the alternative — such as, say, generalizing about Egyptian attitudes from the English-language Twitter feeds of five of your friends.

For another test of the value of such public opinion surveys, I’ll just point to a report in Newsweek that several recent secret Iranian government administered opinion surveys are showing a sharp turn against Mahmoud Ahmedenejad and a surge of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi on the eve of the June 12 elections.  We shall see… 

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