Limited Public Interest in Egyptian Political Conflict

In January 2011, the enduring effects of the Arab Spring sparked an uprising in Egypt as millions of protesters participated in demonstrations, clashes, and strikes to demand the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.  Though the largely peaceful protests were met with some violence, the ousting of Mubarak ultimately led to a democratic transition in the country and received the praise of President Obama when he said other countries on the verge of change should look to Egypt as an example.

The youth-led revolt in 2011 largely captured the attention of Americans. However, after a new wave of protests and demonstrations this year pushed elected President Mohamed Morsi out of office, American’s focus on the Egyptian uprising is waning.  Based on the chart below, Americans are no longer following the situation in Egypt with the same attentiveness they did in 2011.  Specifically, 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans currently say they are not following the ousting of Morsi and installation of an interim government at all, while in 2011 only 9{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} said they were not at all following the demonstrations in Egypt.

chart 1

Further, given the major role of social media in sparking and nurturing the revolution in 2011, the majority of Americans (52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) have not seen or heard anything at all about the political situation in Egypt on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites (Pew Research Center, July, 2013).  Only 12{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say they have heard “a lot” on social network.

The lack of interest in Egypt’s political unrest in not unique, as lower awareness about international issues has become common.  Considering other recent foreign news stories this year, only 13{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans are following the Syrian conflict “very closely” (Pew Research Center /Washington Post, Jun, 2013), only 21{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} indicated they were following the Benghazi investigation “very closely” (Gallup, May, 2013), and only 18{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} followed North Korea’s nuclear test “very closely” (Pew Research Center, Feb, 2013).  Americans simply are not actively following major foreign news stories – Egypt or otherwise.

This is largely because Americans have become increasingly focused on domestic issues.  Considering the chart below, fully 83{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans feel the President should focus on domestic issues over foreign policy issues (Pew Research Center), which is a stark contrast to 8 years ago where just over 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favored more focus on domestic issues.

 chart 2

Growing skepticism that the Arab Spring will produce positive results could also be contributed to a lack of public interest.  In April 2011, after the ousting of Mubarak, 43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans felt the changes in political leadership following the Arab Spring would lead to lasting improvements for Egyptians (Pew Research Center, April, 2011).  Less than two years later, this number has plummeted to only 25{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} feeling the changes will produce lasting improvements (Pew Research Center, October, 2012).

Also, a growing sentiment for the U.S. to stay out of the Egyptian political conflict could be tempering active American interest.  In 2011, 67{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans said the U.S. should stay out of Egyptian affairs (CBS News, February, 2011).  After the latest uprising, now 78{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans feel the U.S. should mostly stay out of events in Egypt and allow the people there to resolve their differences (Princeton Survey Research Associates International, July, 2013).   Part of the reason for a preferred hands-off approach is because Americans do not view the changes in Egypt as being good for the U.S.  In late October 2012, only 14{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans believed the political changes would be good for the U.S., compared to 24{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in 2011 (Pew Research Center, October, 2012; April, 2011).

Increasingly we are seeing public interest focused more towards domestic issues as we recover from an economic recession and wind down from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   However, if political turmoil continues in Egypt and spreads into other areas of the Mideast, we will see whether public interest becomes more engaged in foreign policy and what, if any, role the U.S. should play to maintain our interests abroad.

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