Military rule popular with Egyptians, study finds ahead of vote on constitution

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Story highlights

  • More than seven out of 10 Egyptians say it's good to have the army rule, study says
  • Support for Islamic law is falling in Egypt, but 30% of people there still favor it
  • An increasing number of Egyptians want religion and politics kept separate
  • The findings come from the Middle Eastern Values Study at the University of Michigan

Egyptians are far more likely to support military rule than people in many other countries in the Middle East, but they're also more likely to support Islamic law, according to a study released as the Arab world's most populous country votes on a new constitution.

More than seven out of 10 Egyptians say it is good to have the army rule -- a much larger figure than that in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia or Turkey.

But at the same time, more than a quarter support Islam's Sharia law, which makes the idea more popular in Egypt than in Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia or Turkey.

The numbers reveal the depths of the divisions in a society that has seen revolution and, some would argue, counterrevolution in the last three years.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Egyptians are getting the chance to vote on the new constitution, in the first national ballot since the army removed President Mohamed Morsy from power in July.

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He lasted less than a year in the office, after winning the first democratic elections in Egypt's history. Backed by the Muslim Brotherhood but unpopular with the army, Morsy was toppled after large street protests.

But his supporters were out in force this week in the run-up to the referendum, which the Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to boycott.

    A study of seven countries across the Middle East reveals the splits in Egypt that are driving the street protests on both sides.

    The was a doubling in support for democracy in Egypt in the decade before the Arab Spring swept the country in early 2011, leading to the fall of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak.

    About one in three (31%) people said a good government makes laws according to the will of the people in 2000, while two in three (62%) said so in 2011.

    There was a drop in support for Islamic law in Egypt over the same period, although it was not as dramatic.

    Nearly half of Egyptians (48%) said in 2000 that a good government implements only Sharia law, but by 2011, the figure had fallen to 30%.

    Even so, support for Sharia was higher in Egypt than in most other countries in the seven-nation study by the Middle Eastern Values Study at the University of Michigan. Only Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- both legally Islamic countries -- had higher levels of support for Islamic law as a basis for civil law.

    After the Arab Spring, there was a notable rise in the number of Egyptians who wanted to keep religion and politics separate.

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    Just under half (49%) were in favor of separation in 2011, while the number rose to 57% in 2012.

    Egyptians were more likely than other Middle Easterners to see the Arab Spring as being motivated by a desire for freedom and democracy.

    Nearly six out of ten (59%) of Egyptians saw it that way, compared with 56% in Tunisia -- which also toppled a longtime ruler in 2011 -- 52% in Lebanon, 42% in Pakistan and 36% in Turkey.

    The Middle Eastern Values Study published its findings in a December report focusing mainly on Tunisia.

    The report, "Changing Values in the Birthplace of the Arab Spring," included detailed comparisons between Tunisia and six other countries in the Middle East.

    The Egypt data is based on a sample of 3,496 Egyptians in face-to-face interviews from June to August 2011.

    And although Egyptians supported military rule when they were asked to rate whether it was good or bad, they backed democracy when asked to choose between rule of the people and rule by a strong leader.

    More than eight out of ten (84%) of Egyptians said democracy was a very good political system, while only one in 20 (5%) said it was very good to have a strong head of government.

    Egypt has been led by strongmen with a military background for decades. Mubarak, a former air force commander, ruled Egypt from 1981 until he was brought down by street protests in 2011. His two predecessors, Anwar Sadat and Gamal abd el-Nasser, also came from the military.

    The tradition may continue.

    Egypt's army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, said Saturday that he would run for President if the Egyptian people wanted him to, state media reported.

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