On September 25 al-Masry al-Youm published a very interesting survey on religious perspectives conducted by the Information and Decision Support Center of the Egyptian Cabinet of Ministers. Here are a few of the significant findings; keep in mind that Christians make up between 6-11% of the population:
- 73% of Egyptians are religious and pray regularly.
- 38% are open to friendships with those of other religions, while 62% are not
- 87% would not mind having a neighbor from another religion, while 13% would
- 78% believe there are no problems between Muslims and Christians, while 19% say there are
- 16% wish to omit the reference to religion on the national ID card, while 76% favor it
- 58% stated they would not vote for a president of a religion different than their own, while 36% said they would
- 37% stated they would not vote for a parliamentary candidate different than their own, while 60% said they would
- 65% stated they would not be affected if a cleric endorsed a certain candidate, 16% said they would consider it, and 14% said they would follow it
- 25% stated they support the Muslim Brotherhood, 25% said they are indifferent to it, and 21% said they opposed it
Please note there are other interesting statistics in the article, but I did not include them because the percentage totals seemed to be in error. Imagining this to be the error of the article, it should add an additional grain of salt to the above figures, beyond that which should be given to statistics in general.
Should the statistics presented be accurate, however, it sheds light on Egyptian society and political questions.
- It confirms that Egyptians are very religious in nature, which has been documented elsewhere.
- It confirms the statement that Muslims and Christians live peacefully as neighbors in mixed communities, but confirms also the suspicion that their relationships are not very strong.
- Assuming, perhaps wrongly, that many Christians would be among the 19% claiming interreligious problems, it illustrates a large number of Muslims, though certainly the minority, agree with them.
- It lends confirmation that religion and identity are strongly intertwined, as the percentage of religiosity roughly equals the percentage wishing religion to remain an official national designation.
- It illustrates a high percentage of the population is uncomfortable with political leadership being in the hands of a different religion, yet mostly at the level of the head of state. In Islamic history, while the caliph was necessarily a Muslim, members of other religions have often served as high level functionaries in government. It appears the majority of the population translates this notion into acceptance of interreligious parliamentary representation.
- It counters the notion that religious clerics exert a great influence on the voting patterns of the population. During the March 19 referendum passed overwhelmingly by the population, opponents complained that many clerics urged their communities to vote yes, even declaring such a vote to be an Islamic duty. While 14% acceptance of a clerical endorsement is still large, it by no means characterizes the Egyptian people.
- It confirms the strong popular base of the Muslim Brotherhood while illustrating also a similarly large opposition to their program. Upcoming elections may well be determined by which group successfully mobilizes their supporters and recruits the middle ground. With committed and organized members, however, these statistics may confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood has an advantage in the competition.