Friday, May 11, 2012
What Do Egyptians Want? A Democratically Elected Islamist Dictatorship
By Barry Rubin
Yes, friends, it’s once again time for that exciting game of Spin the Polls by the Pew Foundation. Here are the rules:
Rule 1: Pew does a good job on the poll itself.
Rule 2: The Pew analysis ignores or misunderstands the implications of the poll.
Rule 3: The Western media and government misread the poll, often misinterpreting the results into the exact opposite of what they actually mean. They then adopt the wrong policies.
Rule 4: If correctly interpreted the polls are a gold mine that can help us comprehend the present and predict the future.
Some years ago, for example, I analyzed a Pew poll. The poll showed that people in Arab countries had a low opinion of al-Qaida. It was then interpreted as meaning that they were moderate. In fact, as I wrote the poll showed a shockingly high level of support for revolutionary Islamism, especially in Egypt and Jordan.
Once again we have the misleading spin beginning with the headline: “Egyptians Remain Optimistic, Embrace Democracy and Religion in Political Life.”
If I were writing the headline it would be: “Egyptians Want Radical Islamist State More Than Anything Else.”
To be fair to Pew, the lead of their analysis is something very significant that couldn’t have been imagined before now: “Opinions of the U.S. and President Obama continue to be overwhelmingly unfavorable.” This is somehow spun, however, to imply that there is no real crisis and that U.S. policy need not be reexamined or changed.
After all, the Obama Administration’s role in helping to overthrow not just President Husni Mubarak (a reasonable action) but the entire regime brought no gain for the United States whatsoever. Instead it helped bring to power an anti-American regime likely to destabilize the region and bring war.
The poll concludes that Egyptians still want the same type of relationship with the United States. But what does this mean other than continuing to take U.S. aid money? Using America as a scapegoat—as Middle Eastern dictatorships have done now for more than a half-century—it won’t be long before hate-America rallies, demagogic anti-American speeches, a lack of cooperation on issues, and violence-inciting broadcasts or articles become routine.
You won’t be surprised to hear that two-thirds of Egyptians want to throw out the peace treaty with Israel. The U.S. Congress has properly determined that this would lead to an end of U.S. aid. So what will the next Egyptian government do? Simple, don’t throw out the treaty formally but just break it in every way possible.
What’s most critical is how Egyptians think of their own country. Here’s a very revealing apparent contradiction. Read carefully.
The Pew poll’s headline says that Egyptians are optimistic but that they also believe the economic situation is not good. Half of them claim things have gotten worse since Mubarak fell. Why then do 53 percent (albeit 65 percent) believe the country is headed in the right direction?
The answer is that they are happy with the political direction—toward radical Islamism—but do not think it will improve their material lives. They make a distinction between material benefit and spiritual-ideological preference. Such a choice is never understood in the West, especially by those who argue that everyone wants the same things in life, so an Islamist regime must deliver prosperity or fall, and consequently that radicals must moderate in order to fill their people’s stomachs.