Washington, May 21 - Egyptians are evenly split on maintaining the peace treaty with Israel ahead of the country’s first ever presidential election, a new poll has found.
Forty-six percent of those interviewed said they would maintain the treaty compared with 44 percent who said they would cancel it, the 2012 Public Opinion Survey in Egypt found. Ten percent said the next president should amend it.
That division “gives politicians tremendous leeway” to negotiate the future of the treaty removed from popular opinion, the poll’s director and University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami said at a Brookings Institution event to release the poll. “It is not an issue that will drive politics,” he said.
Israel is paying close attention as millions in Egypt turn out to vote on May 23 and 24. Although Telhami cautioned that it is hard to candidate preferences accurately, the latest major poll has former Mubarak-era ministers leading, with Amr Moussa at 31.7 percent support, and Ahmad Shafiq at 22.6 percent. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Mursi rose to third place with 14.8 percent.
If no presidential candidate wins more than half of the votes - an almost certain scenario given the strong field, Telhami said - a run-off will be held on June 16 and 17.
Even as 94 percent of respondents said Israel was a threat to Egypt, Telhami noted that none of three top candidates said they would abandon the pact at the sole presidential debate.
Respondents ranked personal trust in the candidate as being the most important voting factor (31 percent) followed by the economy (22 percent) and record and experience (19 percent).
Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Steven Cook, an Egypt expert, said the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been the strongest party to win the presidency six months ago, hurt its chances at the presidency by going back on its promise not to contest the presidency.
“The decision to field a candidate has had a devastating impact after holding themselves out for decades as being politically pure, and then go back, has turned lots of people away,” Cook said.
The survey also asked about Iran’s push for nuclear weapons. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed agreed that Egypt should build its own stockpile if Iran succeeds and 31 percent agreed that a push for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East would include Israel.
The poll surveyed 773 Egyptians in face-to-face interviews from May 4-10, 2012, with a 3.6 percent margin of error.