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Troubling news

Comment
Dr James 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 per cent of Tunisians and 55pc 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 21pc of Tunisians and 20pc of Egyptians said ‘better off,’ while 59pc of Tunisians and 64pc of Egyptians claimed they were ‘worse off’. It is important to note that when we polled in both countries five years ago, 94pc of Tunisians and 85pc 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 36pc of Egyptians said they were hopeful. But after the Tamarrud events of June 2013, that number rose to 68pc who said they were optimistic that the country was on the right track. By the end of 2014, however, only 41pc were hopeful. Therefore, the precipitous drop to just one in five who feel they are moving in the right direction must be seen as worrisome.

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, the religious establishment, media, and parliament.

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

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

In polls we conducted in 2013, right before and shortly after the military had deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government, more than nine in 10 Egyptians said they had confidence in their military. By late 2013, that had dropped to seven in 10. Now it’s four in 10 – 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.

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.