Poll Has Troubling News About State of Affairs of Tunisia and Egypt

Former Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (Wikimedia Commons)

by James J. Zogby

Eight years after the unfolding of the events of “Arab Spring,” Tunisians and Egyptians appear deeply displeased about the situations in their respective countries. When asked whether their countries were moving in the right or wrong direction, only one in five Tunisians and Egyptians said “right direction,” while 69% of Tunisians and 55% of Egyptians said their countries were moving in the “wrong direction.”

This is just one of the findings of a September, 2018 comprehensive public opinion poll in eight Arab countries and Turkey and Iran by Zogby Research Services (ZRS). The survey was conducted for the annual Sir Bani Yas Forum in the UAE. While, in future articles, I will be reporting on other major findings from this ZRS poll, the dissatisfaction of Tunisians and Egyptians was especially significant.

When asked whether respondents felt they were better off or worse off than they had been five years ago, only 21% of Tunisians and 20% of Egyptians said “better off,” while 59% of Tunisians and 64% of Egyptians claimed they were “worse off.” It is important to note that when we polled in both countries five years ago, 94% of Tunisians and 85% of Egyptians told us that they had been “hopeful that their countries were on the right track” after the revolts succeeded in toppling their regimes.

Over the next few years, attitudes in Tunisia gradually became more tempered. The mood changes registered by Egyptians, on the other hand, were more volatile. By May of 2013, only 36% of Egyptians said they were hopeful. But after the Tamarrud events of June 2013, that number rose to 68% who said they were optimistic that the country was on the “right track.” By the end of 2014, however, only 41% were hopeful. Therefore, the precipitous drop to just one in five (20% in Tunisia and 19% in Egypt) who feel they are moving in the right direction must be seen as worrisome. (It is worth noting that in other polling conducted by ZRS, we have found that there is a strong correlation between those who say “wrong direction” and individuals who demonstrate sympathy with extremist movements.)

This lack of optimism and satisfaction among Tunisians and Egyptians can also be seen in their expressed lack of confidence in their basic institutions. For example, in this year’s poll we asked respondents how much confidence they had in their military, police, judiciary, religious establishment, media, and parliament.

Tunisian confidence levels were extremely low in each of the institutions under scrutiny. Only 33% had confidence in their military, 26% in the police, 41% in the judiciary, 15% in their religious establishment, 10% in the media, and only 25% in the parliament.

The Egyptian confidence levels were not much better: 41% in their military, 37% in the police, 39% in the judiciary, 50% in the religious establishment, 28% in the media, and only 27% in the parliament.

What is especially significant here is the precipitous drop in confidence Egyptians now have in their military. In polls we conducted in 2013, right before and shortly after the military had deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government, more than nine in ten Egyptians said they had confidence in their military. By late 2013, that had dropped to seven in ten. Now it’s four in ten – a drop of 50 points in five years.

The problems facing both countries are substantial. When we asked respondents to rank the issues that were most important to them, despite differences in the order of importance, sharing the top tier of priority concerns among Tunisians and Egyptians were: expanding employment opportunities (the top priority in Tunisia), ending corruption and nepotism (the top priority in Egypt), improving the educational system, and political and governmental reform. The bottom line: the need to create jobs and reform governance so as to create greater confidence and opportunities for citizens are the challenges faced by the leaderships in both Tunisia and Egypt.

Eight years after the upheavals that rocked both countries ushering in what came to be known as the “Arab Spring,” both societies are struggling to fulfill the expectations created and the unmet needs of their citizens. Their experiments with elected Muslim Brotherhood governments failed – in Tunisia, respondents told us it was the MB’s ineffectiveness, in Egypt it was the real concern generated by the aggressive MB’s over-reach. The governments that replaced the Brotherhood initially restored hope, but the chaotic and fractured political scene in Tunisia and the heavy-handed approach taken by the Egyptian military have sapped the confidence of their respective citizenry.

Where there was once unbridled hope, there is now a loss of confidence and optimism. What this year’s polling demonstrates is the depth of that frustration. I fully expect that there are those who will challenge the findings of this poll – that is always the case when people don’t want to hear “bad news.” But the results of our nationwide polling of 1,036 Egyptians and 841 Tunisians point to real problems that exist and that should not be ignored. [The polls cited here can be found at www.zogbyresearchservices.com.]

James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

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