May 8, 2012

Egyptians Remain Optimistic, Embrace Democracy and Religion in Political Life

Chapter 4. Role of Islam in Politics

Most Egyptians continue to believe that Islam is playing a positive role in their country’s politics, although the percentage who say its role is negative has increased from a miniscule 2% in 2010 to 25% today.

Egyptians clearly want Islam to play a role in shaping the nation’s laws – indeed, a majority says Egypt’s laws should strictly adhere to the Quran. And most say they see Saudi Arabia as a model for the role of religion in government, rather than more secular Turkey.

Laws Should Be Based on Quran

Six-in-ten Egyptians want their laws to strictly follow the Quran. About a third (32%) want them to conform to the principles of Islam but not strictly follow the Quran, and just 6% say the Quran should not have an influence.

These attitudes are virtually unchanged from 2011, when 62% said strictly follow the Quran, 27% wanted to just follow the principles of Islam, and 5% said no influence.

Older Egyptians are especially likely to believe laws should strictly follow the Quran: more than two-thirds of those 50 or older (68%) agree with this position, compared with about half (54%) of 18-29 year-olds.

A similar split arises by education. For example, 68% of those with a primary education or less want to strictly follow the Quran, while just 55% of the college-educated want the same.

Egyptians with a secondary or college education are now 12 points less likely than in 2011 to believe the country’s laws should strictly follow the Quran. On the other hand, among those with a primary education or less, the percentage who hold this view has increased by 10 points.

More Say Islam Plays a Large Role

The view that Islam plays a large role in the political life of Egypt has increased from 47% in 2010, a year before the uprising against Mubarak, to 66% today. The percentage saying it plays a small role has dropped 13 points since 2010, from 48% to 35%.

The percentage who believe that Islam has a great deal of influence and say it is a bad thing has increased from just 1% in 2010 to 20% today. Meanwhile, those who believe the role of Islam is small and this is bad for the country decreased from 37% to 24%.

Younger people are especially likely to believe that a large role for Islam is bad for the country. About a quarter (27%) of 18-29 year-olds say Islam is a considerable influence and that this is bad, compared with just 15% of those 50 and older.

Majority Chooses Saudi Arabia as Model for Religion and Politics

When asked whether Saudi Arabia or Turkey serves as the better model for the role of religion in government, a majority (61%) says Saudi Arabia, while 17% choose Turkey and another 22% volunteer that neither is a model.

Opinions on this question are strongly related to general attitudes about the role of religion in politics. Among those who see a positive role for Islam in Egyptian politics, 71% choose Saudi Arabia; among those who see a negative role, just 48% do the same.

Despite admiring Saudi Arabia for its emphasis on religion, Egyptians also broadly desire a democracy. Nearly equal percentages of those who choose Turkey (71%) and those who choose Saudi Arabia (67%) say democracy is preferable to any other form of government.