Some critics of the Obama administration have asked whether the United States has “lost” Egypt since the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak’s regime in early 2011.
But a new poll of the US public raises a new question: has Egypt lost America?
The poll, conducted earlier this year by Zogby Research Services, finds a 22-point drop in favorable opinion of Egypt among Americans, from 58 percent in 2011 to 36 percent this year. The results were released at a CAP event on Friday. Some other key findings from the poll:
- Pessimism and uncertainty are the dominant attitudes about how the “Arab Spring” has played out in Egypt, with a plurality (42 percent) saying that they are disappointed and about one quarter (28 percent) uncertain about the impact.
- Nearly 40 percent say they are concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood’s election was a setback for Egypt, and another 29 percent are uncertain. A majority of Americans — 53 percent — do not think that the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to democracy, and another one third (33 percent) is unsure.
- These negative views don’t seem to be driven by the Islamophobia campaigns in the United States — something my CAP colleagues have thoroughly investigated and exposed. Fully 47 percent of those Americans who say they have a favorable view of Muslims overall say they have an unfavorable view of the Muslim Brotherhood, and another 23 percent say they are not familiar.
- Only 14 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi’s popularity has declined inside of Egypt in recent months — a recent poll of Egyptian attitudes by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research found Morsi’s approval ratings dropping below 50 percent, down from 80 percent last fall.
These negative perceptions translate into weak support for U.S. government efforts to back Egypt during the country’s transition. Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) disagree with American military and civilian aid to Egypt with a Muslim Brotherhood-associated government in power, and 30 percent are unsure.
At a time when the Obama administration is seeking Congressional support for Egypt and other key countries in transition in the Middle East in the larger debate about the U.S. budget, these public perceptions demonstrate a serious challenge in making the case for more support.
Despite these largely negative views, some Americans remain open to the idea of remaining engaged and working with Egypt, even if it is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. But they are very divided, with one third saying that the U.S. government can engage with the Muslim Brotherhood if it is open to working with the United States, one third stating flatly that the Muslim Brotherhood is anti-American and the U.S. cannot work with them, and one third unsure.
Egypt remains in the early phases of a complicated political, economic, and security transition, and it will require significant external support to deal with these problems. As I have argued, the United States should continue to seek ways to support a smooth transition in Egypt.
This poll of U.S. attitudes on Egypt should serve as a wake-up call for leaders in Egypt and the United States — America’s support is dropping. Rebuilding that support will require Egypt’s leaders to take a more inclusive approach in dealing with their country’s problems and building a new system based on pluralism, and it will require U.S. leaders to make sure we are clearer about supporting our country’s values and interests.
Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia.