The Egyptian people aren't thinking about the U.S. as they take to the streets against the rule of Hosni Mubarak, but they will certainly judge how we have dealt with their insurrection. Based on our polling done there last summer, we do know that Egyptians are disappointed with President Barack Obama and have a decidedly negative view of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
The Obama Administration has been cautious, urging Mubarak to enact reforms and make way for a democratic transition from his 30-year rule, and using the billions in aid we give Egypt as leverage. We don't know exactly what is being said through diplomatic channels, especially with the Egyptian military, which relies on our funding and whose officers have been trained at U.S. military colleges. The protestors would welcome more overt and public support from the U.S., but given what we know about their opinions of us, they were not counting on it.
While the data I'm reporting here may portray alarmingly hostile attitudes toward the U.S., my experience with the region (I have been to Egypt eight times and we have done extensive polling in the Middle East for more than 10 years) makes me feel we can improve our standing with Egyptians and be a seen allies in a new, more democratic nation. I recall a conversation three years ago with a diplomat from a Middle Eastern nation who said of Arabs that "we love America. It's the U.S. we have a problem with."
The data is from a July 2010 poll Zogby International conducted for the University of Maryland.
On the U.S.: 85% had an unfavorable attitude toward the U.S., 87% had no confidence in the U.S., 92% named the U.S. as one of two nations that are the greatest threat to them, only 4% said if they had to live in another country they would choose the U.S. and 52% have an unfavorable opinion of the American people.
On Barack Obama: 61% were hopeful when Obama took office, 61% said he had not met the expectations set in his 2009 speech in Cairo, 60% were discouraged by his Middle East policies and 54% had a negative view of him.
On Israel and Palestinians: 69% said that of all Obama policies they were most disappointed toward Israel and Palestine; 90% named Israel as one of two nations that are the greatest threat to them and Egyptians were split as to whether there would ever be lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians.
On the role of clergy in government: 65% agreed with a statement that "clergy must play a greater role in our political system."
On Iran: 86% say Iran has a right to pursue its nuclear program, 56% agree Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and 79% say it would be positive if Iran acquired nuclear arms.
On Iraq: 57% said the U.S. role in Iraq was the issue most central issue in their assessment of Obama administration Middle East policy and 75% said the Iraqi people were worse off due to the war.
Our standing with Egyptians was better after the 9/11 attacks, but worsened after Iraq War, and it hit bottom after revelations about U.S. military behavior at the Abu Ghraib prison. Iraq will hopefully recede as an issue, but our support of Israel will remain very unpopular with Egyptians. Opinion of the U.S. is bound to worsen if the people's insurrection against the Mubarak government turns out badly for them.
If they succeed, it is unlikely a new Egyptian government and the military (the nation's most stable and enduring institution) will reject continued U.S. aid. We would have a great opportunity to restore Egyptian confidence in the U.S. Let's hope that will be the outcome.