By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service
(RNS) The Islamic political party known as the Muslim Brotherhood has soured American attitudes towards Egypt, arguably America's most important Arab ally, since its candidate Mohamed Morsi won presidential elections there in June 2012.
That's according to a poll released Friday (April 12) by the Arab American Institute in Washington D.C.
Morsi's term has been dogged by charges that he opts for authoritarian measures such as martial law. Muslim-Christian clashes have also shadowed his term; there were clashes on April 5 in the town of Khosus that killed four Coptic Christians and one Muslim, and violence also marred the April 7 funeral for the Copts who were killed in that conflict.
According to the Institute's poll of 2,300 likely voters, only 36 percent of Americans had favorable views of Egypt, down from 66 percent in 1997. At least some of the decline has been attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt's parliamentary elections in January 2012, and to Morsi himself, who won the presidency last June by a 52-48 percent margin.
The poll, which was conducted in March, also found a huge gap in Americans' favorability ratings of the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslims themselves.
Americans had far more favorable views of Muslims than the Muslim Brotherhood. The survey found that 40 percent of Americans had favorable views of Muslims, while only four percent of Americans saw the election victories of the Muslim Brotherhood as a positive development.
Other key findings from the survey:
* More than half of Americans (53 percent) believe the Muslim Brotherhood is not committed to democracy while 15 percent said they were.
* Nearly one-third of Americans,(32 percent) said they would be less likely to visit an Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, compared to five percent who said they would be more likely to visit.
* Almost half of Americans (47 percent) said the U.S. should stop providing financial aid to Egypt while it is governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, while 22 percent the aid should continue.
"President Mohamed Morsi needs to acknowledge the deep and longstanding problem of sectarian violence in Egypt and take decisive steps to address it before it escalates further," said Nadim Houry, deputy director for the North Africa and Middle East program at Human Rights Watch.
In a statement, Houry also called on the Egyptian government to reform laws that discriminate against Christians' right to worship.
Egypt's new constitution, which took effect in December 2012, explicitly recognizes the right of Christians to have their own places of worship. But the Morsi government has not erased an earlier law that requires Christians, and no other religious group, to obtain a presidential decree in order to build a new church.