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The Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi amid major anti-government protests has prompted some American politicians to urge the U.S. to hold back some or all of the roughly $1.5 billion in aid it gives annually to Egypt. Those who support an aid cutoff argue that despite the popular uprising, the military’s removal of a democratically elected leader undermines democracy, requiring a negative response from the U.S.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., went a step further, arguing that Egyptians don’t even want the aid we give their country in the first place. (Paul is a longtime critic of foreign aid in general.)
In a Fox News interview on July 8, 2013, host Eric Bolling asked Paul why President Barack Obama hadn’t called the ouster a "coup."
Paul responded, "You know, I think they are confused on this. They, like so many supporters of foreign aid, think that that's how we buy friendship around the world, that's how we influence people. But the interesting thing is, there was a Gallup poll in Egypt last year, and 70 percent of Egyptians don't want our money. So, they burn our flag, they don't want our money and we say, ‘Oh, here, you must take it, or we want you to behave and act like Americans.’ But there isn't a whole lot of real democracy going on over there."
We wondered whether Paul was right about the high level of public opposition to U.S. assistance in Egypt.
The answer is that Paul is right. In fact, the opposition to aid is even more widespread among Egyptians than he had indicated.
In a February 2012 poll, Gallup asked Egyptians, "Do you favor or oppose the U.S. sending economic aid to Egypt?" Gallup pollsters found that 82 percent opposed such aid.
That was the highest level of opposition recorded in six Gallup polls between April 2011 and February 2012. Even the lowest level of opposition found in these polls -- 52 percent in April 2011 -- meant that a majority opposed U.S. aid. So it’s a stance that seems pretty widespread in Egypt in recent years.
In a September 2012 analysis of its survey results, Gallup wrote that "Egyptians may resent U.S. aid for the same reason some members of Congress are calling it into question -- it is seen as a tool of U.S. influence with Egypt's government."
The attitudes Gallup found are mirrored in Pew poll data from spring 2013.
Pew asked Egyptians, "Overall, would you say U.S. economic aid to Egypt is having a mostly positive impact, a mostly negative impact, or no impact on the way things are going in Egypt?"
Overall, 24 percent of respondents said "mostly positive," 55 percent said "mostly negative" and 18 percent said "no impact." When the wording of the question was varied to say "military" aid rather than "economic" aid, attitudes turned even more negative. Ten percent of respondents said "mostly positive," 58 percent said "mostly negative" and 28 percent said "no impact."
These findings rang true with experts we contacted.
"There is no doubt that there are large numbers of Egyptians who don’t want our aid," said Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
While Paul’s claim is accurate, there’s one thing worth noting.
The polls Gallup (and Pew) conducted did not use the familiar telephone-based random sampling technique most commonly seen in the United States. The Gallup poll used face-to-face interviews conducted in Arabic with 1,000 adults age 15 and older. Gallup has explained that face-to-face surveys are "normally conducted … by dividing a given population into blocks of roughly equal population density. Each block is further divided into blocks until a single household is chosen at random, and then a single respondent is randomly chosen from the household."
The use of this methodology doesn’t mean such polls aren’t trustworthy -- if U.S.-style telephone methods had been workable in Egypt, Gallup could have used them -- but the approach is so different that we think it’s a point worth noting.
According to Gallup, the margin of sampling error for the April 2012 survey was 3 percentage points, though the company also acknowledges that "question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls." Pew, for its part, makes clear that security concerns for pollsters made it impossible to include about 2 percent of the population that lives in "frontier" regions.
Paul said, "There was a Gallup poll in Egypt last year, and 70 percent of Egyptians don't want our money." That actually understates what Gallup found. One of the firm’s polls from April 2012 found that 82 percent of Egyptians opposed such aid. Other polls and regional experts confirm the existence of such levels of opposition. We rate the claim True.
Gallup, "Opinion Briefing: Egyptians Skeptical of U.S. Intentions," Sept. 21, 2012
Pew Research Center, "Global Attitudes Project 2013 Spring Survey Topline Results," May 16, 2013
Gallup, "What Is Public Opinion Polling and Why Is It Important?" accessed July 10, 2013
Gallup, "Gallup Worldwide Research Data Collected 2005/2006 - 2013," January 2013
USA Today, "Obama, lawmakers at odds over Egypt aid," July 9, 2013
Rand Paul, "Stemming the flow of wasted foreign aid" (Washington Times op-ed), May 3, 2013
Email interview with Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, July 10, 2013
Email interview with Karyln Bowman, polling analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, July 10, 2013
Email interview with Mark Blumenthal, founder of pollster.com, July 10, 2013
Email interview with Lauren Kannry, spokeswoman for Gallup, July 10, 2013
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