Apr 16th 2013

American Attitudes Toward Egypt Have Soured

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute
American public opinion has soured on Egypt, with one-half of all American voters now holding an unfavorable view of that country and its leadership. This was not always the case

My brother John Zogby and I have been measuring American attitudes toward the Arab World for two decades. For much of that time, Egypt had the highest ratings of any country in the region. In fact, in most years from 1993 until 2010 around 60% of Americans rated Egypt positively. However, in our most recent poll, conducted in March of 2013, only 36% of Americans report having a favorable rating of Egypt, while 48% have an unfavorable view.

This dramatic shift in U.S. opinion is a function of two main factors: concern about the role being played by the Muslim Brotherhood and the American public's general lack of awareness about Egypt's contemporary history.

While modern Egypt has been known in the Arab World for its cinema, its comedy and music, and its political and intellectual leadership, the image of the country was never established in the United States. As a result, positive attitudes were "soft" and/or derivative of other factors. Back when Egypt's ratings were high, in response to the open-ended question "what is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear Egypt?” the overwhelming majority of answers recalled the "pyramids", "the Sphinx", and the other "glories of ancient Egypt". There were also respondents who mentioned the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Camp David Accords.

In the early months of the Arab Spring the images of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators called to mind for many Americans their own civil rights movement or Eastern Europe's fall of the "Iron Curtain". After an initial drop in ratings in early 2011, by mid-2011 Egypt's favorable ratings were back up to 60%. That support has since evaporated. But in the March 2013 poll when we asked for respondent's "first thought when they hear Egypt", "pyramids" was still the most frequently mentioned term, now followed closely by "trouble", "unrest" and the "Muslim Brotherhood".

In January of 2012, we asked Americans whether or not they were hopeful that the Arab Spring would bring about positive change. By more than two to one they answered in the affirmative. But in the tumultuous year and a half that has followed, Americans have lost that hope. Today, the number of American voters who say they are disappointed with "how the Arab Spring has played out in Egypt" is three times greater than those who say they are still hopeful that positive change will come.

As much as "soft" attitudes are to blame, concern with the Muslim Brotherhood is also a factor in the new negative opinion toward Egypt. Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, is only viewed favorably by 14% of Americans, while over one half have an unfavorable view of Morsi. And by almost three to one Americans rate former President Hosni Mubarak as having been more of a friend and ally of the U.S. than Morsi, the current president. 

It is important to note that it is not anti-Muslim animus that drives these numbers, since strong negative views of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi exist even among those Americans who hold a favorable view of Muslims. 

There are consequences that result from this change in attitudes. Many Americans now question whether or not the U.S. government can work with a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt. They also question whether the U.S. should provide military and civilian aid to Egypt. A majority of Americans also say they worry about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over in other countries, and say that they support actions by other Arab governments to "limit the activity of Muslim Brotherhood branches operating in their countries". 

Another by-product of this negative turn and the general disappointment with the trajectory of the "Arab Spring" has been the public's embrace of an interesting combination of principles they feel should guide American foreign policy. 

For example, when asked whether the U.S. "should support governments, whether they are elected or not, if they work closely with us to promote regional stability and protect our interests" or whether we "should only support democratically elected governments, even if those governments might pursue policies that are hostile to our interests", by a wide margin of 72% to 17% American voters chose the first approach.

And when asked to choose between providing support "for any government that is democratically elected, even if it is pursuing policies that compromise the rights of minorities in their countries" or "as a condition for U.S. support, we should require that any government, whether it has been elected or not, protect the rights of all their citizens", by an 85% to 10% margin voters chose the second approach. 

Two years ago, I compared Egypt to Broadway, noting that it didn't matter so much how events played out on other stages across the Arab World because the world would judge the Arab Spring by how it played out in Egypt. We are now two and one-half years into the Arab Spring and the "blush is off the rose". American's are disappointed, attitudes toward Egypt have soured, and the public has adopted a less romantic, more "realist" approach to our relations across the Arab World. 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "