First the good news: U.S. President Barack Obama is more than twice as popular in Egypt as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
Now, the bad news: the American president's standing has never been worse in Egypt, plummeting since 2008, when he received a 25 percent favorability rating, to 12 percent in 2011. Even Osama Bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader, was more popular this year, with a 21 percent favorability ranking. The Iranian leader fared worse, dropping from 21 percent favorability rating in 2008 to a miserable 5 percent.
The findings are drawn from a public poll of Egyptian views in the aftermath of the public uprising that brought about the resignation of Egypt's fallen leader Hosni Mubarak. The poll was commissioned by the International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank with close ties to the United Nations and Arab governments.
The poll seeks to capture the mood of the country in the lead up to the Egypt's first post-Mubarak election, and to handicap the presidential campaign. It shows that Egyptians currently fret over issues like the economy, stability, and government corruption more than they worry about the course of the country's democratic transition.
According to the poll, conducted by Charney Research and based on interviews with 800 Egyptians, Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief, has emerged as an early frontrunner. Thirty-two percent of respondents say they would vote for Moussa, who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister.
Essam Sharraf, an engineering professor who is serving as the country's interim prime minister, finished second with 16 percent of votes ( though his favorability ranking is higher than Moussa's). And Mohammed Tantawi, the army chief, finished third with 8 percent of those questioned saying they would vote for him. Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who emerged from retirement to serve as Egypt's best known pro-democracy advocate, finished seventh, with only 2 percent of respondents pledging to vote for him.
The poll shows that the Egyptian army, which refused orders to fire on public demonstrators during the country's popular uprising, remains "extremely popular" with 90 percent of Egyptian respondents expressing a favorable view. Egypt's various secular parties also did well, garning 25 precent of respondents' votes, while Islamist parties gained 19 percent. The best-known political parties, the New Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, received respectively 40 percent and 31 percent favorability ratings. The Brotherhood's unfavorability rating, at 29 percent, was 10 points higher.
"The military right now is riding a wave of popularity because it is seen as playing two key roles [in Egypt's popular revolution]," Craig Charney, the pollster, told Turtle Bay. "It delivered the coup de grace to Mubarak and did it in a way that maintained a substantial degree of stability."
Charney said that the findings also demonstrated that fears of a religious take over by Islamists are overblown. "The much feared green-tide just isn't there, with the Muslim Brotherhood receiving 12 percent while the Salafists for all their sound and fury came away with only 4 percent," Charney said.
While an exiled Egyptian national, Ayman al Zawahiri, has been selected as the new leader of Al Qaeda, the poll suggested that the terror organization would have been better at influencing events in Egypt under the leadership of their late Saudi leader, Osama Bin laden, who was killed by elite U.S. commandos in Pakistan.
According to the poll, bin Laden's favorability ratings rose from 18 percent of those questioned in 2008 to 21 percent in 2011. In contrast, Zawahiri scored a favorability rating of only 11 percent this year.
Charney said that while other polls have found somewhat higher support for President Obama's response to the Egyptian uprising, he has suffered from a generally dim view of American policy throughout the region.
"Despite President Obama's words and measures in support of Egypt's revolution, he only narrowly edges out the leaders of al Qaeda and Iran in popular regard there," Charney said in a statement. "But our findings do clearly show that Egyptians have little regard for the likes of al-Zawahiri and Ahmadinejad."
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Richard Falk, the U.N. rights researcher who provoked fury from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon for saying the U.S. government and media had apparently covered up evidence challenging the official U.S. claim that the terrorist group Al Qaeda carried out the 911 terror attacks, says he was misunderstood.
"I wish to be absolutely clear," Falk said in a statement. "I do not endorse the theory that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. What I did do, in my personal blog, in which I was discussing the differing perceptions that develop after political assassinations and deeply tragic events, including the murder of Olaf Palme, the 9/11 attacks and the recent killing in Arizona, was argue that investigations must be seen to be, transparent, exhaustive and honest.
The dispute arose over Falk's blog post on 911 on government's propensity for secrecy in the face of awkward truths. Here's the passage that got Falk into hot water:
The arguments swirling around the 9/11 attacks are emblematic of these issues. What fuels suspicions of conspiracy is the reluctance to address the sort of awkward gaps and contradictions in the official explanations that David Ray Griffin(and other devoted scholars of high integrity) have been documenting in book after book ever since his authoritative The New Pearl Harbor in 2004 (updated in 2008). What may be more distressing than the apparent cover up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an al Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials. Is this silence a manifestation of fear or cooption, or part of an equally disturbing filter of self-censorship? Whatever it is, the result is the withering away of a participatory citizenry and the erosion of legitimate constitutional government. The forms persist, but the content is missing.
After the post, Hillel C. Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Wacth, sent a letter to Ban Ki moon condemning the remarks, and calling for Falk's removal. "As he did again this month, Mr. Falk has repeatedly called into question the fact that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were indeed terrorist attacks," Neuer said in prepared testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee Monday. "Instead he calls for exploring the possibility that 9/11 was an "inside job"carried out by the U.S. government."
Ban quickly condemned Falk's blog posting. Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, Ban said: " I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric. It is preposterous -- an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic attack."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for Falk's removal. "Mr. Falk endorses the slurs of conspiracy theorists who allege that the September, 2001, terrorists attack were perpetrated and then covered up by the U.S. government and media," she said."In my view, Mr. Falk's latest commentary is so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position on behalf of the UN."
Falk, who serves as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestininian Territories Occupied Since 1967, claimed "the pro-Israel group, UN Watch..deliberately distorted comment I made my personal capacity, on my blog," to have him fired from his unpaid job. In a blog post Thursday, he accused Neuer of "publicly attacking me in consistently irresponsible and untruthful ways, presumably with the intention of diverting attention from my criticisms of Israel's occupation policies in the Palestinian territories."
In response, U.N. Watch issued a statement saying "Mr. Falk's ad hominem attacks on UN Watch are a pathetic attempt to divert attention from his own action...By attempting to justify his despicable denial of Al Qaeda's carrying-out of the 9/11 attacks as a mere call for “investigations,” Mr. Falk resorts to the same transparent tactics used by Iran's Ahmadinejad and other hate-mongers who seek to deny other great atrocities of history, each with their own hateful political agenda."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.