What do Egyptians want?

The 2012 Public Opinion Survey in Egypt was conducted from May 4-10 by the Brookings Institution.

Attitudes toward the United States

Attitudes toward the United States continue to be unfavorable (85%).

Asked to name the two steps by the United States that would improve the views of the US the most, 66% identified brokering Middle East peace and establishing a Palestinian state, 46% identified stopping economic and military aid to Israel, and 44% identified withdrawal of American forces from the Arabian Peninsula. Only seven percent identified withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan as one of the two top steps, 12% identified an American push to spread democracy in the Middle East, and 18% identified providing more economic assistance to the region.

Although Egyptians in the past year have been understandably preoccupied with their own political and economic situation and have not been paying as much attention to the American elections as usual, and they probably know less about the republican candidates for president, that has not prevented them from giving their opinions. Presented with a choice between President Obama and likely Republican candidate Mitt Romney, 73% said they preferred Romney, and only 25% chose Obama. It is unlikely that most Egyptians know much about Romney, and the choice is more likely to be an expression of disappointment with Obama. When Obama first came to office in 2009, even before his important speech in Cairo, Egyptian public opinion of the President was more favorable than unfavorable. This contrasted with Israeli public opinion, which was more suspicious of Obama. Since then, there has been a reversal of fortune, where in a poll we conducted in Israel last February, Israeli Jews expressed preference for Obama over all the leading Republican candidates (although his lead over Romney was within the margin of error).

Attitudes toward Israel

Respondents were almost equally divided among those who would like to see Egypt maintain its peace treaty with Israel (46%) and those who would like to see it cancelled (44%). 10% would like to see the treaty amended. With regard to the prospects of lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, 55% indicated that they don’t believe this will ever happen, while only five percent said it will happen in the next five years, and 40% said it is inevitable, but it will take more time.

Attitudes toward Iran and its Nuclear Program

When asked in an open question to identify the two countries that posed the biggest threat to them, 97% included Israel in that list of two, 80% included the United States, and 20% included Iran. While Iran remains far behind Israel and the United States as a perceived threat, which is consistent with our polls over the past several years, those who identified Iran as one of the two biggest threats have increased from 8% in 2009 and 15% in October 2011 to 20% in the current poll.

If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, 61% of respondents say they would like Egypt to build its own weapons program, while 32% want Egypt to push for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East that includes Iran, Israel, and Arabs. Even if Iran does not build nuclear weapons, but Israel retains its own, 49% of respondents say they would like Egypt to build its own, while 45% say they prefer pushing for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

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