In the aftermath of the military takeover of the Egyptian government on July 3, much of the world's media reacted characterizing the move as a coup. Defenders of the move argued that the "coup" description could not apply because it received widespread public support, in contradistinction to former President Mohamed Morsi's unpopularity. Both supporters of the move and its detractors argued that their side spoke for the silent majority -- something that no one could thoroughly substantiate. However, data from the recent "TahrirTrends" survey and additional data from Gallup shed some light on at least part of the public discourse.
The data, from a countrywide, face-to-face survey, is currently being analyzed by the TahrirTrends BrainTrust, a group of scholars and experts, including some of the more well-known academic and polling figures in the field. This article is the first in a number of pieces likely to be released by the group and others, covering a range of political, social, and economic subjects. The survey was conducted between late May and early June, before the military's move, so therefore indicates little directly about the support of or opposition to the military takeover. However, it clearly highlights the unpopularity and lack of confidence in former President Morsi's rule, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) -- even among the Egyptians who voted for Morsi in the first round of presidential elections. Gallup's Mohamed Younis has also released data that indicates that this lack of confidence extends to Egypt's government.
When Morsi was elected, 77 percent of Egyptians said they expected him to do either a good job (66 percent) or an average one (11 percent). Regardless of whether they supported him, after almost a year in office 74 percent said he did a poorer job than they expected. When asked about the FJP in the same way, 73 percent said they expected it to do a good (59 percent) or average job (14 percent) when it gained a strong position in parliament. Regardless of whether they supported the FJP, in May and June 72 percent said it did a poorer job than they expected.
When the Freedom and Justice Party gained a strong position in the legislature, did you expect it to do a good job, an average job, or did you expect to do a poor job? (Remainder: don't know or refused to answer) [Data from Tahrir Trends]
Regardless of whether or not you supported him, do you think the President has done a better job than you expected him to, or do you think he has done a poorer job than you expected him to? (Remainder: don't know or refused to answer)
whether or not you support the Freedom and Justice Party, do you think it has done
a better job than you expected it to do, about
the same, or do you think it has done a poorer job than you expected
it to do? (Remainder: don't know or refused to answer)[Data from Tahrir Trends]
Noteworthy is that the Egyptians who voted for Morsi in the first round (not in the run-off with Ahmed Shafiq, former President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister) of the presidential elections last year also substantially shared in the overall countrywide disappointment. Of the people who voted for Morsi, 53 percent also said the former president did a poorer job than they expected, with 56 percent of Morsi voters saying the FJP did a poorer job than they expected.
Substantial numbers of Egyptians also identified the Muslim Brotherhood and the president as responsible for the current state of polarization in Egypt. Six out of 10 cited the Muslim Brotherhood as responsible. They also concurrently mentioned others in answering this question: 20 percent identified Salafis, while 27 percent identified the National Salvation Front. When asked for other sources of polarization, independently, 15 percent mentioned the president.
Which of the following do you think are responsible for the state of polarization in which we now live? (Multiple responses acceptable)[Data from Tahrir Trends]
When asked who was most responsible for the state of polarization, 49 percent identified the MB, 12 percent mentioned the president, 5 percent noted Salafis, and 14 percent cited the National Salvation Front.
And which of those three do you think is most responsible for this state of polarization? [Data from Tahrir Trends]
The remainder noted a variety of smaller complaints about society at large, bullying, and mischief. Interestingly, a sizeable number (39 percent) of those who voted for Morsi in the first round of presidential elections also mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood as a source of polarization, while 32 percent of them mentioned it as the source most responsible for polarization.
In general, a majority of Egyptians did not believe there had been improvement to their lives since Morsi's election. When asked if their lives had improved or worsened, 63 percent said their lives had worsened, 12 percent said their lives had improved, and 25 percent said their lives had stayed the same.
Overall, has your life improved or worsened since President Morsi's election? [Data from Tahrir Trends]
Another research study, conducted by Gallup in June, with analysis from Gallup's Senior Analyst Mohamed Younis, indicated that dissatisfaction with Morsi's record extended to the national government, whose leaders were appointed by him, as well as the job performance of the country's leadership in general. Just a couple of weeks before the June 30 protests, only 29 percent of Egyptians expressed confidence in their national government, which is the lowest Gallup has recorded in Egypt since the beginning of the January 25 revolution in 2011. When asked about the job performance of the country's leadership, 69 percent expressed disapproval -- when this is compared to the 63 percent approval rating recorded in November 2012, Gallup data indicated a dramatic decrease in the popularity of the Egyptian government and its leadership under Morsi. The Freedom and Justice Party's popularity has also suffered significantly during the revolution thus far -- only 19 percent of Egyptians expressed confidence in the party in June, while 67 percent did in early 2012.
No one can be sure yet whether the military takeover had overwhelming public support. The June 30 protests calling for early presidential elections, and the protests on July 26, in response to competing calls from the military and the pro-Morsi camp, indicate that the large numbers on both sides cannot be taken as showing beyond all doubt who has majority support in the country. Greater crowds took to the streets against Morsi and in support of the military, but most Egyptians didn't take to the streets at all. Nevertheless, recurrent polls in the past three years show the military enjoying widespread confidence. At the height of its popularity in early to mid 2011, according to Gallup, the military had the confidence of 93 percent of Egyptians -- at its lowest point in late 2011 according to the same source, it had the confidence of 88 percent of Egyptians.
That may or may not have translated into support for military involvement in politics after a civilian president was elected: in April 2012, close to the presidential elections, 25 percent said it would be a good thing for the military to remain involved in politics after the presidential elections. Other polls indicate that this may have risen -- but without additional research, one cannot assume conclusively that most Egyptians supported the military takeover.
What the data does show, however, is that significant majorities of Egyptians were disappointed in Morsi's year in office, and that they were also disappointed in the FJP's performance in governing the country. Does that mean they preferred a military take over as an alternative? Despite the high probability of high confidence in the military as an institution, such an assumption cannot be taken conclusively. Nevertheless, one can be quite sure that the support of Egyptians at large of any government cannot be taken for granted.
Dr. H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Project on U.S.-Islamic World Relations at the Brookings Institution, and ISPU, is a specialist on Arab affairs and West-Muslim world relations. Follow him on Twitter: @hahellyer.
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