What has the Arab Spring wrought in Egypt?

The people of Middle Eastern countries have the right of self-determination. On principle, Western governments which speak about supporting democracy should not then support dictatorships.

But what happens when the dictatorship is more secular than what follows?

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project has yesterday released the latest data on Egyptian attitudes. Seems Egyptians are less optimistic now than they were a year ago, but they also want the Quran to shape the country’s laws.

Amid rancorous debates over the presidential election and the shape of a new constitution, most Egyptians continue to want democracy, with two-in-three saying it is the best form of government.

Egyptians also want Islam to play a major role in society, and most believe the Quran should shape the country’s laws, although a growing minority expresses reservations about the increasing influence of Islam in politics. When asked which country is the better model for the role of religion in government, Turkey or Saudi Arabia, 61% say the latter. However, most also endorse specific democratic rights and institutions that do not exist in Saudi Arabia, such as free speech, a free press, and equal rights for women.

Seven-in-ten Egyptians express a favorable view of the Muslim Brotherhood, down just slightly from 75% a year ago. Most (56%) also have a positive opinion of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the largest party in the newly elected parliament. The more conservative al-Nour fares less well: 44% have a favorable and 44% an unfavorable view of the Salafist party. Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a Salafist leader who was recently disqualified as a presidential candidate, gets somewhat better ratings (52% positive, 42% negative).

Presidential contender Amr Moussa receives overwhelmingly positive marks, with 81% expressing a positive opinion of the former Foreign Minister and Arab League chief. Meanwhile, 58% have a favorable view of moderate Islamist presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

The April 6th Movement, a loose organization of mostly young and secular activists that played a key role in the demonstrations that forced Hosni Mubarak from office, is rated favorably by 68% of Egyptians. However, the Egyptian Bloc, a mostly secular coalition of political parties, is not popular – just 38% assign it a positive rating.

That last part is possibly the most disturbing. The Egyptian Arab Spring was led largely by secular-minded activists, who have now been pushed to the back of the bus by an Islamist majority.

That’s the same majority seeking to legalize necrophilia and strip the rights of women to have jobs and an education.

If you ever wanted to see the pyramids . . . well, I hope you already went.

There is some reason for hope for Egypt’s future–rather, hope for the future of women and secular-minded people in Egypt:

A growing number of Egyptians sees Islam as playing a major role in the political life of the country – 66% currently compared with 47% in 2010. For the most part, those who believe Islam is playing a large role see this as good for the country, but more disagree with that view this year than last. Conflicting views about the role of religion in politics are also seen in the significant numbers who say Saudi Arabia is the best model for Egypt, yet endorse key features of democracy. Among those who choose Saudi Arabia over Turkey as the best model for Egypt, two-thirds also say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government. More than six-in-ten say it is very important to live in a country with a free press (64%), honest multiparty elections (63%), and freedom of speech (61%).

While democracy is often interpreted as “majority rule”, and hence consistent with the desires of a nation with a single majority religion, the majority also wants a free press and free speech.

Will these freedoms include freedom of religious expression, including criticism? Time will tell what Egyptians mean.

One Response to What has the Arab Spring wrought in Egypt?

  1. “The people of Middle Eastern countries have the right of self-determination. On principle, Western governments which speak about supporting democracy should not then support dictatorships.” What about supporting democratically elected governments? The US and Israel both unequivocally rejected the duly elected leaders of the Palestinians – so governments will say one thing but do what is expedient.

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