Slavin: Egypt’s Voters Lean Toward Turkish Model

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My colleague Barbara Slavin writes:

Egypt’s voters appear to be seeking someone similar to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as their new president.

A poll released just before the May 23 election rates personal trustworthiness as the most important characteristic of Egypt’s next leader. Of those polled by the University of Maryland, 66 percent said Sharia should be the basis for Egyptian laws but 83 percent said Islamic law should be “adapted to modern times.”

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, presented the findings Monday at Brookings. He noted distinctions between the characteristics Egyptians said they sought in members of parliament and as president. Where 24 percent of Egyptians rated party affiliation as the number one reason for choosing a member of parliament, 31 percent cited personal trust as the key determinant in voting for president.Telhami said one reason might be the Muslim Brotherhood’s reversal of a pledge not to field a candidate for Egypt’s top office. According to the poll, 71 percent of Egyptians thought that reversal was a mistake.

The poll, of 773 Egyptians, was conducted from May 4-10 prior to a televised debate between former foreign minister Amr Moussa and liberal Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. In the Telhami poll, Aboul Fotouh came in first with 32 percent and Moussa was close behind at 28 percent. Another holdover from the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, was third with 14 percent, trailed by the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Morsi, and a leftist, Hamdeen Sabahi, each with 8 percent.

Telhami said that Morsi was likely to gain more support because of the organizational muscle of the Brotherhood but might not make it into an anticipated second round of voting.

The powers of the next president are still undetermined because a new constitution has yet to be drafted. However, Egyptian voters appear to be gravitating toward the Turkish model of a secular leader with Islamic roots. According to the poll, 63 percent said Erdogan was the foreign leader they admire most, 54 percent would like Islam to be integrated into the political system in a fashion similar to Turkey and 41 percent said that if only one country outside Egypt could be a superpower, they would like that to be Turkey.

As has been the case for several years, attitudes toward the United States were overwhelmingly negative. Eighty percent of Egyptians polled said they regard the US as a threat – second only to Israel, which got a 90 percent negative rating. The main reason for this hostility is US failure to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Telhami said.

Telhami said that when it comes to the Egyptian election, the best policy for the Barack Obama administration is to keep silent and “stay out of it.”

Steven Cook, an expert on Egypt at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed. “We are a big fat target,” he said.