Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cairo Dispatch - Iran Nuclear and Egypt

This is my third month in Egypt and I think I have enough grasp about the local culture and political view on the street.

Let me give you a background.

Egyptian is tired, of war and its own government. If you read the news today, you will see a violence clash between protesters and Egypt national police (they are brutal; even worse that Indonesian during Suharto era) in downtown Cairo.

The protest essentially is about judicial independence. The judges in Egypt are essentially in revolt against the Mubarak regime interference with their independence.

Mubarak is universally despised.

Egyptian has had enough of revolutions, skrimishes and war. If you read their history in the 50s, 60's and 70's, they had plenty of that. Those screwed up their country. Egypt under the king was better than after the revolution. The young people's parents know of those days and describe to their children about the good old days, which was really good and better old days.

The old movies showed a much liberal lifestyle than the current one (women in mini skirts, yay).

You also meet a lot of veterans from the 1973 war. That was especially a point of pride. They lost the war but achieved their objective eventually in getting back their beloved Sinai.

They got their Sinai back and they are not risking anything else.

Egypt was also the first country in the region that got the full impact of terrorism after effect after the fall of Afghanistan when their Mujaheddin return to Egypt and wreak havock. The past three bombings were nothing. I talked to many

about the harrowing periods in the 90's when you heard about bombings almost every week in Cairo, in schools and public places. Schools - Not a touristic place. The last bombing in Dahab was designed more to kill Egyptians than tourists because it happened in Egyptian long weekends (similar to the other two - also national holidays)

Israelis travels freely to Sinai and they do so by the billions every year, enjoying the great cheap resorts along the Red Sea (well recommended) and cheap hasish; it is harder for them to cross the Suez canal because it requires a special visa to do so. So Israelis simply don't go to Cairo. It is less common for Egyptians to go to Israel.

Coptic Christian (Coptic means Egypt in Coptic language) is the oldest unbreakable line of Christians in the world (more or less); They have a place here in Old Cairo where they think the Holy Family spent their time after leaving Israel. If you travel here, you can visit their many hundreds year old monastery (a couple of them dated since 3th century).

Time and time again, when the political situation in the country gets heated (for whatever reason, pressure from the US, elections, etc), you will see clash between the Muslims and Coptics in the ghetto area of Alexandria.

The divide between Sunni and Shiite here is deep. Egypt is a Sunni country. Sunni and Shiite divide are not like Catholic and Protestant. It's worse. Muhammed SAW is the last prophet. The Shiite disagrees; sort of; and elevate Ali to the same level.

It's like being a Christian and saying there's another one after Christ. It's THAT BIG of A DEAL regardless whether you are reading the same Bible or Qur'an.

This is why you see in Iraq Sunni has no qualms of opressing Shiite. Some do not consider Shiite as Muslims.

Iran is a Shiite and also Persian. And that distinction is very very clear here. Arabs are arabs, persians are persians, two distinct people and culture and religious practice.

So Iran's nuke is not a source of pride here. They are ambivalent about the issue at best and they are a bit wary about the

possibilities of yet another war in the region because it will fuck up their economy, again. Nothing scares the tourist away

(the main lifeline of Egyptian economy) than a Israel-Iran / US - Iran war. Remember, Israel tourists contributes a lot to Egyptian economy as well (I think the annual number is around 200,000).

But the current consensus right now is nothing will happen to Iran. The US is seen stuck at Iraq and will not do anything militarily about Iran.

So that's my impression in the Cairo street from talking people from the lower to middle class. I don't know what the elites are thinking.

As a side note, I invited the fame Sand... blogger to my party once and I met him. He's an OK guy but he comes from the elite class that come with its own trappings which I shall not disclose here.