Estimates say the number of Egyptian recruits in ISIS equal 8,000, perhaps 20-30 percent of their fighting force. A report indicates ISIS is in direct communication with Sinai-based terrorist groups to train in creating cells to attack security personnel.
But while some say the ISIS mentality is present among Egyptians, especially in Upper Egypt, there has been little quantifiable data to go by.
A recent poll published by the New Republic, relying on surveying efforts by the Fikra Forum, finds only three percent of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of ISIS. By contrast, and also noteworthy, 35 percent support the Muslim Brotherhood.
A few observations: First, three percent of 90 million people is still a very large number. How might you feel if your neighbor was one of the 2.7 million?
Second, the Egyptian government purports a link between groups like ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether or not this is true operationally, on the ground there is a huge contrast. The great majority of Brotherhood supporters do not find common cause with the jihadis of Syria and Iraq.
Third, the common Western assertion is that Egypt following the coup is a polarized society divided against itself, while the common Egyptian assertion is that the country is united against the Muslim Brotherhood. This finding, if correct, undermines both claims.
If a full one-third of society rejects the political system, the claimed unity is an illusion that ignores or purposefully downplays a palpable frustration. On the other hand, if only one-third of an electorate opposes the majority political view, evidence is lent to the argument that Egypt was and still is greatly behind the June 30 revolution and the danger posed by Brotherhood leadership.
Of course, even here caution is needed. Some may have supported the removal of Morsi but still see the Muslim Brotherhood as an essentially good organization, serving society. And others may hold strong objections to the ideology of the Brotherhood yet believe they are still treated unfairly. The polling data released is not specific enough to nuance beyond the larger percentages.
But the percentages are significant even so. Egypt is mostly against the Brotherhood, and almost entirely against ISIS. The troubles lie in the many real people covered over by a minority statistic.
Important note: H.A. Hellyer, who has extensive experience in following Egyptian survey organizations and urges caution about their general reliability, does not recognize the Fikra Forum as a polling center.