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
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.
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 and (forgive me but I can’t help saying it)
which became the most widely plagiarized article of my career, the poll showed a
shockingly high level of support for revolutionary Islamism, especially in Egypt
Once again we have the misleading spin beginning with the
headline: “Egyptians remain optimistic, embrace democracy and religion in
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 US and President Obama continue to be
overwhelmingly unfavorable.” This is somehow spun, however, to imply that there
is no real crisis and that US policy need not be reexamined or
After all, the Obama administration’s role in helping to
overthrow not just President Hosni 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 US 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
You won’t be surprised to hear that two-thirds of Egyptians want
to throw out the peace treaty with Israel. The US Congress has properly
determined that this would lead to an end of US 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
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%) 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
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 antagonism against the need
to build antagonism against the United States, Israel and the West, 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% 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.
if Egypt’s laws should strictly adhere to the Koran, 60% said yes while another
32% said it should follow the values and principles of Islam more generally.
Let’s say that this 60% (see the Saudi model, above) is the firm base for
Islamist rule. This is less than the 75% the Islamists received in the
parliamentary elections, suggesting that 15% of these voters wanted a slightly
less extreme society. But they are outnumbered four to one and are likely to go
That 32% might be open to a relatively moderate Islam in theory.
But since there is no strong alternative theological or political leadership in
that direction, this is unlikely to be strong enough to block an Islamist
transformation. And who is left as the genuine, secular or for a minimally
religious state? The Christians, that’s about all.
Pew makes much of
supposed moderation by pointing out that two-thirds of those who endorsed the
Saudi model also said democracy is their preferred form of government; 64% want
a free press; 61% want free speech.
But what does this really mean in the
context of Egypt? Of course they support “democracy” since the alternative they
have in mind is the hated Mubarak dictatorship. And what does democracy mean to
them? A landslide victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists! Thus, when
they think about, “This is what democracy looks like,” that means eternal
As for a free press and free speech, that means
diversity, though we should remember that proportionately newspaper reading in
Egypt is insignificant compared to the West. Yet what would happen if someone
used this free press or free speech for something deemed critical of Islam?
Already we are seeing people brought to court for saying things the Islamists
don’t like. Yet the cases are heard by Mubarak-appointed judges. What will
happen when the Islamists appoint the judges?
The hypnotized observers in the
West keep chanting that the Brotherhood has renounced violence and would never
ever use force and intimidation. If you want to know what Egypt has in store
consider the following:
In 1992 – under Mubarak’s regime – Farag Fouda, a
fearless secularist, debated a Muslim Brotherhood leader at the Cairo Book Fair.
Five months later, an Islamist assassinated Fouda. At the trial, a Muslim
Brotherhood leader testified as a defense witness that the killing was the
proper punishment for an apostate, at which point the defendant shouted, “Now I
will die with a clear conscience.” It was a Mubarak court and the killer
was found guilty. What will happen in an Islamist regime’s court?
will die, as will US interests. Will the Western apologists and enablers have a
The writer’s book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been
published by Yale University Press. He is director of global research in the
International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a featured columnist at PJM and editor
of The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.