CAIRO (AP) — Only a slight majority of Egyptians look favorably on Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former army chief who ousted the elected president and is now a heavy favorite to win next week's presidential elections, according to a poll released Thursday by a U.S.-based research center.
The findings of the poll by the Pew Research Center paint a picture of a nation sharply divided, in contrast to the fervor of support for el-Sissi drummed up in Egyptian media depicting him as the beloved hero of the nation and his removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer as the will of the people.
Since then, the interim government has waged a fierce crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, branding the group a terrorist organization — another theme that is heavily propagated by almost all Egyptian TV stations and newspapers.
Pew's poll was based on 1,000 face-to-face interviews with adults who are 18 and older. The interviews were conducted between April 10 and 29. It has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.
The poll found that 54 percent of respondents look favorably on el-Sissi, while 45 percent view him unfavorably. The military takeover he led last July to oust Morsi had the support of 54 percent, while 43 percent oppose it.
Significantly, 42 percent looked favorably at Morsi, who is in detention and on trial for a range of charges — some of which carry the death penalty — and is daily demonized by the media. In a Pew poll a year ago, before his ouster, Morsi had an approval rating of 53 percent.
Faring far worse was the Brotherhood — the political powerhouse behind Morsi. The poll suggested its popularity had plummeted: A year ago, 63 percent viewed the group favorably, down to 38 percent in the new poll.
Even the military, traditionally Egypt's most powerful and respected institution, has seen its popularity drop. Pew said 56 percent of those interviewed thought the military had a good impact on the country, down from 73 percent last year who said it had a positive influence on the country.
A win by the 59-year-old el-Sissi in the presidential election being held on Monday and Tuesday is widely seen as a certainty. But his campaign is pushing hard for a heavy turnout, hoping to show the breadth of popular support. The divisions on display in the poll, however, could portend trouble on that front. While el-Sissi supporters may turn out in heavy numbers, his biggest opponents — the Islamists — are boycotting the poll.
El-Sissi is running against leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who placed third in the 2012 presidential election won by Morsi. Pew's poll found that Sabahi has a 35 percent favorable rating, down from 48 percent last year.
The poll also found disenchantment growing among Egyptians since the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The country has been mired in bloody turmoil, instability and a worsening economy since.
When asked if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in Egypt, 72 percent responded dissatisfied — higher even than the 67 percent in 2010, before Mubarak's ouster. In Pew's poll immediately after the revolution, dissatisfaction fell to 34 percent, but it has been steadily rising since. Also, 76 percent described the economic situation as bad, nearing levels in 2010.