Latest update: May 14th, 2012
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.
Remember what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, architect of Iran’s revolution, said back in 1979: People in the West don’t understand that we didn’t make this revolution to lower the price of watermelons.
No, the substitute for such material success is repression plus finding the right scapegoat and subsidizing certain key constituencies (notably the military), which brings us back to the need to build antagonism against the United States, Israel, and the West in order to distract from the economic mess, doesn’t it?
Another apparent contradiction is equally revealing. When asked whether they preferred to model Egypt on Saudi Arabia or Turkey regarding religion’s role in government, thy chose Saudi Arabia by a 61 to 17 percent margin. Note that Western pundits and experts keep insisting that there is some kind of Turkish model of moderate Islamism. Aside from the fact that Turks aren’t Arabs, this is a sign of the base of support for a fully sharia state. Remember that as Sunni Muslims, Egyptians are not going to cite Iran as their model. And when they are talking about Saudi Arabia they are not indicating its basic alliance with the United States but its extreme form of Islamic rule in domestic life.
When asked if Egypt’s laws should strictly adhere to the Quran, 60 percent said yes while another 32 percent said it should follow the values and principles of Islam more generally. Let’s say that this 60 percent (see the Saudi model, above) is the firm base for Islamist rule. This is less than the 75 percent the Islamists received in the parliamentary elections, suggesting that 15 percent of these voters are not so totally for an Islamist society.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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