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Friday, May 23, 2014

Egyptians Back to the Ballot Box...Again

By Mohamed Younis, Regional Consultant

Out of all the data sets I have tracked and studied as an analyst at Gallup, none has been as fascinating to watch as our World Poll data from Egypt. Egyptians’ life evaluation ratings reveal dramatic fluctuations in hope and despair, and their changing attitudes about the direction that leaders are taking the country could give the unassuming analyst whiplash.

After Hosni Mubarak’s fall from grace, Egyptians’ hopes for the future were sky high. Initially, the data reflected Egyptians’ elation that Mubarak had stepped down, and the vast majority of Egyptians shared hopes that their lives and their country’s global standing would improve as a result. Additionally, the world was celebrating Egyptian civic participation and peaceful demands for change. Hopes were so high that by mid-2012, Egyptians had one of the highest levels of confidence in the transparency of the electoral process (89%) in the world, on par with most Scandinavian countries.

Egyptians also knew what they wanted. When asked what the country’s leaders (whomever they would be) should do next, the answer was simple: Jobs. It was not “instituting Sharia law,” or tackling crime, or anything else. Egyptians consistently told Gallup that their leaders should focus on the economy, unemployment, youth unemployment, and job opportunities.

Despite Egyptians’ high levels of confidence in the electoral process early in the transition, by the summer of 2013, only 34% still had confidence in the honesty of elections. A majority of Egyptians, 55%, described their standard of living as getting worse in a country where life evaluation scores -- even prior to political instability -- looked more like those in the Palestinian Territories and Yemen than a large middle-income country. The percentage of those falling into the “suffering” category reached an all-time high (34%) two weeks before Mohamed Morsi was ousted. There are many theories still percolating on exactly what went so wrong under Morsi’s rule, but the bottom line is that Egyptians saw things getting much worse. More importantly, they were not satisfied with the slow rate and direction of change they saw taking place around them.

Since Morsi was removed from power, Egypt has witnessed its most polarized political landscape in its modern history. Where there was once nearly universal celebration of what the street movement seemed to have accomplished after Mubarak’s removal, today there are debates and question marks about where the country is headed. Morsi’s removal has strained relations with some strategic allies, but improved relations with others. Some may even argue that nothing in Egypt has changed. Such critics point to the fact that a now-retired military leader seems slated to win in a landslide victory at the polls.

Yet one variable has changed. The most important factors in Egypt’s stability are no longer based on decisions that military leadership or religious scholars make. It’s not whether Egyptians want to cancel the Camp David Accords. It’s not whether the next president lands the long-debated IMF recovery package for the country. It’s not even whether the security situation -- the worst in most living Egyptians’ remembered history -- stabilizes. The most important factor in the new Egypt is the public’s level of satisfaction with the rate and direction of change they see happening around them.

What fundamentally mobilized many Egyptians against the Morsi presidency was the feeling that things were getting worse quickly and there did not seem to be a clear and coherent path out. In fact, the front-runner and expected victor in the presidential elections on Monday and Tuesday has already alluded that if he is unsuccessful in office, he too may be looking out on streets filled with angry protesters. In a country that over generations became known for its somnolent attitude toward the failure of leadership, the only thing that has truly changed in Egypt might prove to be the most important. 

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