Voice of the People
Reporters are forever on the hunt for “real people” in their quest to unpick the fabric of a country. But where are they? How do they think and live? And in the case of Egypt, who are the so-called real people who will decide the fate of the Arab world’s most influential country?
The Egyptian uprising was in many ways driven by the young, liberal and often secular types who co-ordinated the insurrection from their laptops and Twitter accounts. Yet in reality—as the non-religious political parties have found to their cost during the recent elections—they represent just a fraction of the population.
The same can be said for the deadly violence which shook Cairo and other areas of Egypt over the last eight weeks. According to a Gallup poll, which was released as the violence reached its destructive apogee in November, around 84 per cent of Egyptians believe that continued protests are a bad thing for the country.
Not that a viewer of the nightly news back in Britain would have known, what with the thousands of stone-throwing civilians calling in unison for the downfall of the ruling Military Council. Polling organisations like Gallup offer some indication of what is going on in the mindsets of Egyptians right now. With the Muslim Brotherhood looking as though it will emerge with perhaps 40 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, the optimism of wealthy Egyptians has plummeted sharply, according to Gallup’s most recent data released this month.
Just over half of people who describe themselves as “living comfortably” on their present income expressed a degree of hope about the future, down from 80 per cent in the summer—a reflection, perhaps, of the dismay which has greeted the various blunders and provocations committed by the military over recent months.
Those who said they struggled to survive on their wages—presumably a rather large constituency, given that 40 per cent of Egyptians live on less than a dollar a day—shared the same feelings, with just under half of those polled expressing optimism, down slightly less from 66 percent in June.
This new data comes in the month when Naguib Sawiris, the billionaire telecoms tycoon who co-founded Egypt’s main liberal party, was told he would face blasphemy charges after using Twitter to post pictures of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing Islamic dress.
The move by Egypt’s general prosecutor has sparked outrage from many of the country’s liberal groups. “If they are going to charge people for idiocy and consider it a crime they should start with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces”, tweeted one critic. Yet one suspects that many Egyptians would welcome the action against Sawiris, a prominent Christian who has made enemies among the Muslim Brotherhood for his outspoken attacks on religious politics.
For various reasons, Egyptian society has grown increasingly conservative over the past three decades. According to Tarek Osman’s book Egypt on the Brink, the number of women wearing the veil sky-rocketed from 30 per cent to more than double that in the second half of the 20th Century.
Nermine, a Muslim language teacher from Cairo, told The Majalla she believes many ordinary Muslim Egyptians feel their Christian compatriots are not like them. “They think Christians are atheists,” she said. “They think that they are trying to close themselves off from society.”
Opinion polls certainly give some indication of the pre-eminence of Islam and how it may shape the next couple of years. A survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project over the summer said that around 25 percent of voters want The Quran to become the main source of legislation, though more than half did say that Islam should be only one of many influences on power.
After the triumph of the Islamist parties during the recent parliamentary elections, many Egyptians could well end up getting what they asked for.