Will the Muslim Brotherhood Rule Egypt?

Everyone is trying to figure out what the new Egypt will look like, with some polls painting a nightmare scenario and another one causing cheers. The dizzying contradictions in the polls capture the complexities of Egyptian opinion and can guide a strategy to limit the Muslim Brotherhood’s inevitably large gains.

First, the very, very bad news. The Egyptian people overwhelmingly support the introduction of elements of Sharia into their government. A Pew poll from 2010 registered 84% support for executing those that leave Islam, 82% support for stoning adulterers, and 77% support for whippings and cutting the hands off of those guilty of theft. A significant minority of 22 percent say that a non-democratic form of governance is sometimes the best option and only 36 percent feel a non-Muslim should be allowed to run for president. A poll by Zogby found that 65 percent felt the “clergy must play a greater role in our system.”

The foreign policy of the new Egypt will undoubtedly move in a direction more hostile to the West. Zogby found last July that America has an 85% disapproval rating and 52 percent have a negative opinion of the American people. The U.S. and Israel are viewed universally as the biggest threats. Nearly 80 percent feel it would be a good thing if Iran acquired nuclear weapons and 56 percent believe it is trying to do just that.

A World Public Opinion poll from 2009 found that 64 percent of Egyptians have a positive view of the Muslim Brotherhood and 69 percent believe it is a democratic organization. Only 22 percent feel it is an extremist group that is not genuinely democratic. This poll means that the Brotherhood has a very good chance of winning an outright majority in a parliamentary election if it forms a bloc with Mohammed ElBaradei and other parties.

Nonetheless, here are some poll results that could lift you up a bit. The most recent poll, carried out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy from February 5-8, had very encouraging results. Before jumping for joy, however, bear in mind that it only polled Egyptians in Cairo and Alexandria, two of the wealthier areas with the most Western influence. The Brotherhood gets the bulk of its strength from the poorer population that's less affected by globalization and the West. Taken together, Cairo and Alexandria account only for some 12 million of Egypt's 80 million souls.

That being said, this shows the major cities could form a base from which to challenge the Brotherhood. Only 15 percent in these two cities approve of the Muslim Brotherhood and only one percent would vote for a Brotherhood candidate for president. Only four percent want ElBaradei, the Brotherhood's mask, to become president. To put this in perspective, former President Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman each scored 18 percent. The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, led with 29 percent.

In these two cities, 37 percent want to preserve the peace treaty with Israel versus 22 percent who want to revoke it. When respondents were asked what they wanted Egypt to be like in 5 to 10 years, only 12 percent said they wanted Sharia fully implemented. Being hailed as the first Arab democracy is the vision of 22 percent, and the foremost concern of 17 percent is being known as a center of modernization and tourism. A little over one-fourth care most about Egypt being respected and feared, showing a strong nationalist sentiment.