"It seems clear that the Big Bad Brotherhood isn't much more popular in Egypt than it is on Fox News," wrote Max Fisher in his article "Muslim Brotherhood Is Deeply Unpopular in Egypt," which appeared in July issue of The Atlantic Monthly –- as if the Muslim Brotherhood will say, "Oh, I'm not popular? All right then, I'll go away." Fisher's reasoning is based on the results of three polls carried out in the last months.
It would be nice to share Fisher's view. It would be nice to see the abrogation of the Egyptian constitution's Article 2, which reads: "Islam is the Religion of the State, Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence [Sharia Law]." It would be nice to know that no intellectual in Egypt will be condemned for apostasy in a civil court, but it looks as if these freedoms will not be in place for years to come.
The first poll, conducted on behalf of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy by the Pechter Middle East Polls, was a "Phone Survey of Cairo and Alexandria" issued last February. The results came from "343 randomly selected interviews landline and cell phone" in Cairo and Alexandria. Among the key findings was the cinclusion that "the Muslim Brotherhood is approved by just 15% and its leaders get barely 1% in a presidential straw vote." At the same time, Amr Musa, former Secretary General of the Arab League, has strong popular support in a presidential straw vote: 29%. As far as the Washington Institute's poll is concerned, an observation in order about its method: 343 people out of 82 million inhabitants cannot be representative, especially if those 343 people are from the two main towns. The sum of the population of Cairo and Alexandria is only 15,289,000 – less than one-fifth of the entire population. Further, urban people are more literate than people living in small centers in the countryside, and therefore more distant from the Brotherhood. Last but not least, at the time of the poll the Muslim Brotherhood had not yet founded the Freedom and Justice Party.
The second poll, entitled "Egypt from Tahrir to Transition. Egyptians on their Assets and Challenges and What Leaders should do about it," was carried out by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, and released in June. It is a "face-to-face survey of approximately 1,000 respondents in Egypt aged 15 years and older, teken since March. Among the results was the conclusion that "Egyptians are most likely to voice support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but not at a level much higher than that for Mubarak's deposed National Democratic Party." In particular, 15% declared that they would support the Muslim Brotherhood as a political party, while 10% said they would support the National Democratic Party. Gallup, in the document drafted along with the results of the survey, also quotes the Pew Research Center's survey, "Egyptians Embrace Revolt Leaders, Religious Parties and Military, As Well," issued last April. There, 96% of Egyptians said that religion is important, and 92% said that they have confidence in religious institutions. Among Muslim Brotherhood supporters, 26% say they approve of U.S. leadership.
Finally, the third poll, carried out by Newsweek Magazine and issued last July 24th, showed that 27% of Egyptians believe that a Muslim Brotherhood majority would be a good thing, while 38% were not sure, and 47% of Egyptians preferred Amr Musa in a matchup of the three front-runners for the presidency.
At first sight, these polls could rise a hopeful view on the future of Egypt. Fisher is right when he says that "Egypt has dozens of political parties, a number of them liberal, secular or otherwise more moderate," but this is not the time to be naive. Last 22nd June 2011, Time Magazine published an article whose title – clean and telling – was "Why the Muslim Brotherhood Are Egypt's Best Democrats." The article's thesis was: "Of all political groups to have emerged since the fall of Hosni Mubarak – including the myriad youth movements, secular parties, leftists and remnants of the old National Democratic Party – the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have the best understanding of how democracy works."
Unfortunately this is true. You only need look at the Brotherhood's English website's recent headlines: "Egypt's military says Brotherhood not a threat" (July 7th); "Amr Mousa Visits Freedom and Justice Party" (July 7th); "FJP Official Meets with EU Delegation" (July 7th); and "US ready to Cooperate With Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-US Diplomat" (July 7th). Last June 30th, the French ambassador to Cairo, Jean Felix-Paganon, met with Mohamed Morsy, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, as did the Japanese ambassador to Egypt.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders are perfectly aware of the fact that in the next elections they are not going to get the majority of the votes, but at the same time, they do not want to be the first party in the Parliament, as with the Hizbollah model of effectively -- but not officially - governing Lebanon. The Brotherhood has already built its electoral coalition, as it did for the constitutional referendum last November, with the old National Democratic Party, the army and Amr Musa, who is very likely to become the next Egyptian President.
In the meantime liberals have learnt the lesson -- but they are far from being organized the way the Brotherhood is.