Last year, the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project conducted a survey of opinion in several Muslim countries. The subject was the proper role of Islam in politics and society. One of the countries surveyed was Egypt, and among other discoveries, the Pew researchers found that 84 percent of Egyptians favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.
In another survey, Pew found that 90 percent of Egyptians say they believe in freedom of religion. Pew also found that a majority of Egyptians think democracy, with protections of free speech and assembly, is "preferable to any other kind of government."
How can those attitudes fit together in a democratic post-Mubarak Egypt? It's no wonder so many people can't figure out what is next.
The Pew survey found wide streams of opinion in Egypt that seem at the very least inhospitable to democracy. When asked which side they would take in a struggle between "groups who want to modernize the country (and) Islamic fundamentalists," 59 percent of Egyptians picked the fundamentalists, while 27 percent picked the modernizers. In a country in which the army will likely play a deciding role in selecting the next political leadership, just 32 percent believe in civilian control of the military. And a majority, 54 percent, supports making segregation of men and women in the workplace the law throughout Egypt.
There's more. When asked whether suicide bombing can ever be justified, 54 percent said yes (although most believe such occasions are "rare"). Eighty-two percent supported stoning for those who commit adultery.
And yet at the same time, says Richard Wike, associate director of Pew's Global Attitudes Project, "we found support for some specific features of democracy -- free media, civil liberties, an independent judiciary." Indeed, 80 percent of Egyptians place a high value on free speech, 88 percent on an impartial judiciary and 75 percent on "media free from government censorship." What accounts for the coexistence of attitudes that to the American mind cannot coexist? "I'm not entirely certain what explains it," Wike says.