Khalil Hamra, Associated Press
CAIRO — A majority of Egyptians believe laws in their country should observe the teachings of Islam's holy book, the Quran, according to the results of an opinion poll by a U.S.-based research center.
The results also show that Egyptians, who have shifted toward religious conservatism over the past 40 or so years, are open to the inclusion of religious parties in future governments. Only a minority, however, sympathize with fundamentalist religious parties, according to the results.
Overall, the results of the poll paint a picture of Egyptians as a people who prefer religious moderation over extremism and prize democratic values even if they come at the risk of some political instability.
The poll results were released late Monday and come five months ahead of legislative elections, the first since the February ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Islamic parties are expected to make a significant showing in the crucial vote, with 50 percent of people saying it was "very important" for religious parties to be part of a future government and as much 37 percent have a "very favorable" view of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest and best organized Islamic group.
Another 62 percent of Egyptians believe laws in their country should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran, though 27 percent thought it was enough that the laws reflect Islam's general values and principles.
The poll, based on interviews with 1,000 Egyptians, was conducted by the Pew Research Center between March 24 and April 7. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.
Its results gauge the mood in Egypt at a time when the country's future is wide open after an end to 29 years of rule by Mubarak — a period defined for many by political suppression, corruption and wide socio-economic disparities.
Mubarak's departure in the face of a popular, 18-day uprising will now give Egyptians unprecedented freedom to choose their future government as well as give new opportunities to political and social forces that have long been kept under wraps.
Islamic groups long suppressed under Mubarak are now free to operate publicly and plan to contest the September vote, including some advocating a militant interpretation of Islam's teachings and the creation of a state run by Islamic law.
In a result that doesn't bode well for the country's lingering sectarian issues, the poll showed that only 36 percent of those questioned believe it is "very important" for Christians and other minorities to freely practice their religions, suggesting the influence of these militant groups, who have incited hatred of the country's 10 percent Christian minority.
Post-Mubarak Egypt also suffers from a security vacuum that has led to a dramatic surge in crime. Economic problems are also deepening and the country has had to borrow from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to balance its books since the political upheavals of the past three months have disrupted productivity, scared away tourists and hit exports.
The poll results also showed that more than half of all Egyptians would like to see the 1979 peace agreement with Israel annulled, highlighting the deep unpopularity of the treaty, which is central to U.S. policy in the region and was scrupulously adhered to by Mubarak.
More than anything else, however, the youth-led pro-democracy movement, which reworked the political environment, dramatically improved people's attitudes. The polls show a major rise in optimism and changing of national priorities.
In 2007, Egyptian were evenly split over which was more important, a strong leader or democracy, but in the recent poll, 64 percent rated democracy higher.
Of those whose names have been put forward as possible candidates for the presidential elections late this year, former Arab League head Amr Moussa was the most popular, with 89 percent giving him a very or somewhat favorable rating.
Former presidential candidate Ayman Nour trailed with a 70 percent rating while Nobel Prize Laureate and reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei only had 57 percent rating.
The United States, Egypt's strongest foreign backer since the mid-1970s, continued to garner low approval ratings, with only 20 percent of Egyptians seeing it in a positive light, up from 17 percent in 2010.
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