Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fun with Polls and the Egyptian Protests

The Globe and Mail has a story on a public opinion poll conducted in Egypt last year. The results are of the type that make you wonder several things, among them how disordered and conflicting people's views can be on large issues of governance, religion and policy.

Take, for instance, the poll's results on Islam and politics: 95% of respondents say it's good that Islam plays a large role in politics, while 85% say Islam's influence on politics is good. This means that 10% of people are happy Islam has a role in politics don't think it necessarily has a positive influence. Now, this isn't necessarily contradictory, but it is one of those poll results that makes you wonder what exactly those 10% of people think.

Even more interesting are the results on "Islamist extremism": 61% of respondents are concerned or very concerned about Islamist extremism in Egypt, but 84% believe apostates from Islam deserve the death penalty and 82% that adulterers should be stoned. Clearly this suggests that there are a sizable proportion of Egyptians who view "Islamist extremism" as simply terrorism as opposed to extreme or radical views rooted in religious belief. Otherwise the results make little sense (although a case might be made they still don't).

What do these results mean for Egypt in light of the current protests? I wouldn't want to hazard a guess. But the current debate about the situation there, at least among pundits/commentators in the West, seems to be polarized among those who view losing Mubarak, a Western ally, as threatening and therefore express dismay at what's happening on the ground, and those who view the calls for democracy in an unabashedly positive light.

I don't see why we can't support the calls for democracy - after all, the Mubarak regime is undoubtedly indefensible - while at the same time have some concern about what type of government may result. Personally, these poll results only reinforce this view.


  1. We've presumably read the critiques of Almond and Verba's 'The Civic Culture', and acknowledge the difficulty in interpreting the data stemming from such broad questions etc,, In any case, as you rightly point out, there might be difference of interpretation in terms of the terms invoked by the poll. I believe that it is imperative that we, as Western observers, that also not reify certain concepts such as a political role for Islam with Islamist or fundamentalist ideology. In any case, here is an interesting article about the Muslim Bros. from the NY Times this morning


  2. Good points, Marcel. I really can't get my head around the FOX News and Ezra Levent (who said the democracy protest was a "fake")... amazing such views carry credence. That said, I'm not sure it's entirely off-base for us to FAVOUR (without necessarily attempting to interfere with) particular outcomes, including ones that lean towards more liberal governance. For surely if we are to regard the protests in Egypt as seeking "democracy" that means more than simply the ability of people to choose their leaders.