Egyptians back keeping clerics out of politics

But Gallup poll also shows they remain deeply committed Muslims: Some 96% of respondents say that religion is important for them.

Muslims 311 (photo credit: Kevin R. Wexler/The Record/MCT)
Muslims 311
(photo credit: Kevin R. Wexler/The Record/MCT)
As Egyptians debate the role of Islam in the post-Mubarak era and the West looks on nervously, a new poll shows that the vast majority of Egyptians support a limited role for clerics and believe that their say in writing legislation should be restricted.
Conducted by the Abu-Dhabi Gallup Center, a research hub of the US polling organization based in the United Arab Emirates, the poll found that 69% of Egyptians favored an advisory role for religious leaders in writing national legislation. Only 14% said that clerics should have full authority to draft legislation while 9% said they should have no authority whatsoever in the legislative process.
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"I'm certain that if you were to ask Egyptians if they would like to see clerics more involved in public life, such as the media and the education system, they would be much more favorable," Sobhy Essaila, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, told The Media Line. But he stressed that Egyptians were suspicious of clerics' involvement in politics.
Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years before he was ousted in the face of mass protests in February, suppressed Islamic political activity. But since then, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the single most powerful political force in Egypt, stoking fears it may seek to change the face of Egyptian society and reorient the country’s pro-West foreign policy.
On Tuesday, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was officially recognized as a party, clearing it to run candidates for parliament in the September elections. The group has said it plans to field candidates in about half of Egypt's districts. Brotherhood candidates, running as independents, won 20% of the vote in a 2005 parliamentary election that was relatively free and fair.
In fact, the Gallup results also illustrate the depth to which religion plays a central role for Egyptians. Some 96% of the respondents said that religion was important for them and 92% said they had confidence in religious institutions. The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Egyptians aged 15 and older during in late March and early April 2011.
Even in politics, other surveys have detected a more favorable stance for Islamic political figures among Egyptians. A Pew Research Center survey taken in April, for instance, found that 62% of Egyptians believed laws should "strictly follow the teachings of the Quran". 
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, a Cairo-based organization, said he doubted the Gallup data, saying that all indications show that religious parties with a clear agenda of "Islamizing" politics are growing stronger in Egypt.
"The success of these parties will greatly depend on the response and the level of fear of liberal Egyptian parties, and their ability to unite and form coalitions," Ibrahim told The Media Line. 
While Egypt has seen economic growth evaporate and chaos and disorder explode in the streets since Mubarak’s fall, the Gallup poll found that Egyptians are more optimistic about the future today than they were last year. When asked how they rated their lives on a scale of 0 to 10, Egyptians gave an average answer of 3.9 as opposed to 4.4 in the fall of 2010, when the survey was previous taken.
But, when asked how their lives would look five years from now, they ranked it an average of 5.7, up from 4.9.
The most dramatic change, perhaps, occurred in Egyptians' confidence in their political system. Nine out of every 10 Egyptians said they believed the presidential elections to be held this autumn would be fair and honest. The same proportion of eligible voters said they intended to vote. In 2010, by comparison, only 30% said they had confidence in the fairness of their elections.
Egyptians were three times more optimistic about the future of their economy than they were in fall 2010; with 46% today versus only 15% in 2010.
Essaila, the Al-Ahram researcher, said the Egyptian's optimism isn’t surprising, but he attributed it to their strong religious beliefs.
"Ordinary Egyptians are optimistic by nature," he said. "This stems from the Egyptian culture and religious reliance on God."
Intellectuals in the country, including academics and journalists, are generally more pessimistic than the uneducated public, he said.
The Egyptian revolution was dubbed "the Facebook revolution," but the new poll found that only 8% of Egyptians followed the events on social network websites like Facebook and Twitter, as opposed to 81% who follow the events on Egyptian State television and 63% on Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
Ibrahim said this isn’t surprising given the high level of Egyptian illiteracy, which some estimate is as much as 30%. "There is also a high level of 'cultural illiteracy,’ which means that even Egyptians who know how to read and write don't use technology like the Internet for their information," he said.