Fridays in Tahrir Square

Originally published in The News International, August 3, 2011: http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=60850&Cat=9

Since the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution, Fridays in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have gone by a number of names, some short and to the point, like the infamous “Friday of Rage”, but many overwrought and the result of endless political wrangling.

The Friday of “popular will and a united front” was redolent of the latter. The convoluted name of the march was the product of a hastily-brokered deal between Islamists and liberals, after plans for a mass Islamist day of action emerged, organised by Islamist political groups – most notably, the Muslim Brotherhood. The agreed-upon demands were of the least-common-denominator ilk, including faster retribution for the families of the revolution’s martyrs, trials for police officers accused of committing those murders, and no military trials for civilians.

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Atlantic’s Misleading Stats on Muslim Brotherhood support

An article posted in the Atlantic today reported that the Muslim Brotherhood had only 17% support, data derived from the latest Newsweek poll.

Here’s the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/07/chart-of-the-day-muslim-brotherhood-is-deeply-unpopular-in-egypt/242539/

The first study is from the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/html/pdf/pollock-Egyptpoll.pdf).  A few things I noticed right off the bat on this survey.

Small sample size: the sample is of 343 phone interviews with residents in Cairo and Alexandria.  Greater Cairo is a city of 20 million people, Alexandria is about 4 million. Although I know there are strategies at getting representative samples, this seems to me a somewhat limited one. In addition, it excludes getting a representative sample of the majority of the Egyptian population, especially those who live in more rural governates.  If we are look at the results of the constitutional referendum, nearly all of the other governates voted yes, which would have meant that elections would come first, giving more salient parties an advantage.  It’s not a neat proxy for judging sentiment and attitudes towards existing parties like the MB, but a truly representative sample would have aimed at sampling from all governates.  Second, the phone interviews took place from Feb 5 to 8, 2011, still in the midst of the revolution. I’m not sure how this would bias the data, but it’s a concern.

The next study is from Gallup: (http://www.abudhabigallupcenter.com/147902/BRIEF-BILINGUAL-Egypt-Tahrir-Transition.aspx).  This is perhaps one of the better designed surveys, given that it was taken after the revolution and has a sample of 1000 participants.

The last study is from Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/2011/07/24/egypt-s-angry-electorate/the-muslim-brotherhood.html), which doesn’t note its survey methodology anywhere, but says that the Freedom and Justice party has a “plurality of support” at 17%.  The Atlantic frames this more pessimistically, saying that this is an abysmal showing, worse than Nixon before he was shamed out of office.  What they do not say is that 27% of their respondents say that MB majority would be a good thing.  The disparity between support for an MB party and support for an MB majority is confusing. It’s possible that this discrepancy was a result of the instrument — MB has name recognition, while “Freedom and Justice” may not.

This is not to be an alarmist about the “Scary Impending MB Takeover” predicted by Fox News et al.  But the presentation of the data was just too disingenuous for me to leave it uncommented.

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