Middle East

The Middle East, The United States, and the War on Terrorism

Critical in Cairo

Date vendors sip tea while waiting for customers in Cairo. Vendors usually try to attract customers during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan by naming the dates with the names of popular songs and belly dancers, but this year two new names have crept into the crop: 'Osama bin Laden' for LE15 (US$3.50) and 'George W. Bush' for LE2.5 (US$0.60) (Photo: AFP).

Egypt's state-owned press has joined the always skeptical opposition press in its conclusion that recent American and British promises on Palestinian statehood were all "spin" and "public relations" in the service of holding up nervous Arab support for their war in Afghanistan. "The entire globe is just standing there without a care for the physical liquidation policy against Palestinian cadres. If the world had a conscience, it would have denounced the state terror practiced by Israel. It should have sought to prevent such atrocities and not to reject the Palestinian people's right to resist," wrote the state's flagship daily Al-Ahram in a bitter editorial on Nov. 9. "Let Sharon's government be fully aware that its security conception has proved to be a complete failure. It has brought the Israeli people nothing but panic and horror. Let Sharon and his notorious ruling clique be fully aware that the struggle against occupation will never end until Palestinian land is liberated and the aggression ends."

"The visits of Western politicians, and their exhausted talk about the peace efforts, are trying to create a dividing wall in our subconscious between the war here and the war there. In other words, between the blood that streamed in Washington and New York and the blood that still streams in Palestine. Terrorism has different meanings and interpretations, which are applied on a selective basis. The stronger side, by virtue of its economic, media, and military machine, is more able to enforce its interpretation of the events and history," wrote columnist Salama Ahmed Salama in Al-Ahram's Nov. 10 edition. "The most grave thing, however, is that the voice of Palestinian people, and their cries of pain and appeal for help, are lost in the cacophony of noisy talk about what's going on in Afghanistan."

There has also been some noisy talk about Egypt's economy, which was already suffering before Sept. 11's terrorist attacks sent shockwaves through the world economy. President Hosni Mubarak, speaking to the ruling National Democratic Party's parliamentary caucus last week, stressed that a raft of legislation needs to be rammed through the new parliamentary session "or else we [the government] will collapse."

Editor of the government-owned Al-Gomhouriya Samir Ragab had some helpful tips on how Egyptian could help save their country's economy. Among them: People should stop wasting hard currency importing silly items. "There is an urgent need to stop luxury imports, including lettuce, chocolates, and make-up. Our women would look even more beautiful and chic if they wore locally-produced cosmetics, which are of superior quality and much cheaper. The government is duty-bound to ban the import of these items. The public should avoid wasting badly-needed foreign currency on such merchandise," he wrote in his Nov. 8 editorial. "History is witness to the fact that in hard times Egyptians always show their mettle."

Apparently, they also show their sense of humor. On Nov. 6, the independent weekly Al-Midan carried a photomontage of the terrorist season, featuring U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield wearing a white preacher's cap. "Imam Rumsfield: Killing in Ramadan is Halal," ran the headline. &America and its butcher Rumsfeld want to give the impression of desiring to investigate the Islamic precepts, so they brought up the issue of whether bombing Afghanistan is Islamically correct during Ramadan," the paper said. "But," Al-Midan continued, "as [popular Egyptian preacher] Youssef Qaradawi pointed out the other week, if Rumsfeld truly respected and adhered to the Islamic precepts he claims to, he would not have started bombing Afghanistan last month. Ragab [the seventh month of the Islamic calendar] is one of the months during which Islamic law forbids fighting." Al-Midan said.

Meanwhile Galal Duweidar, editor of the government-owned Al-Akhbar, has been busy with his own fight—with the Washington Post. A Nov. 4 editorial from the Washington Post criticized Egypt—a moderate Arab ally of the United States—for not having done enough to fight religious extremism in Egyptian society, and for abusing human rights when it did take an active role in combating religious extremism.

Duweidar has made the most vocal response to the American paper's accusations. "This deviant group [of journalists] has given up on professional ethics and honesty in order to please the Zionist lobby which works in Washington in the interests of the Israeli aggression," he wrote in his Nov. 8 editorial. "Only two days ago, the State Department spokesman said…that what some American papers had said about Egypt and terrorism was incorrect and that it does not reflect in any way the position of the American administration…So I'm waiting for a reply from the agents of the Zionist lobby to the State Department statement."