NWI Insights - Public Opinion in Egypt on the US-led war in Iraq
CBC's Adrienne Arsenault went to Egypt to find out opinions from some of the Egyptian people on the US-led war in Iraq. Arriving in Cairo, Arsenault describes the scene as a "giant just waking up". That is, there have been protests on the streets against the war, flags being burnt, banners held high and chants against the war and the lack of action taken by the Arab world to prevent the US coalition invading Iraq. The Government has tried to beat down the protests, reports Arsenault, but their stronghold appears to be slipping as public dissent and fury grows.
Arsenault poses the question, will the fury be enough of a catalyst for change in a country where public dissent is against the law?
Talking with a local cab driver, Arsenault discovers that some of the anger relates to the monetary issues that have arisen as a result firstly of September 11th and now the war in Iraq. Many workers in Cairo rely on tourism for their incomes and the aforementioned factors have simply scared away the tourists and along with them the much needed US dollars. On a trip to the pyramids Arsenault witnesses guides with their camels sitting idly for the non-appearing tourist and tour operators in the street fighting over the 'scraps of business'.
Surveying the scene, Arsenault contends that these people have plenty of time on their hands to think about the situation in the Arab world and in their country and President Bush's recent strategies. She speaks with a doorman who expresses his concern over what happens next? Will Syria be invaded and then Iran? He worries over the US policies on the Middle East.
Arsenault speaks to a lady on the street who explains that they don't need to be bombed to be victims of the war, we are suffering because of the ramifications of the US actions.
In a local coffee shop, Arsenault speaks to a well-dressed businessman who asserts bitterly that no one asked the US to be saviors. He asks Arsenal, have you heard the Iraqi people screaming? Arsenault counters with her own question, will the Iraqi people not be better off without Saddam Hussein? He replies that it is for the Iraqi people to fight for themselves not for the Americans.
Conversing with an immaculate, well-spoken lady in the shop, Arsenault finds that she too feels that the action is questionable and she feels that reports indicate many of the Iraqi people are standing behind their president. Arsenault asks the lady about all the massacres performed by Hussein and how can there be support for a dictator who does this to his people? The lady responds that she can list hundreds of massacres and sights the Oklahoma bombing and Waco. The important point, she asserts, is that 'people need to take care of their own home'.
Away from the shop, Arsenault highlights the difficulties for the Egyptian government who have to deal with the growing public demand for Egypt to sever ties with the US but who also receive $2 billion a year from the US as foreign aid. Historically Arsenault reports, the Egyptian government have used military and police force to suppress any protests and in the 1970s many anti-war protestors ended up in jail. Already the US university in Cairo is now surrounded by a wall of police to deter any kind of organized uprising. Students feel angry and powerless and one of the more active students explained to Arsenault that she has been told she will be deported if there is any kind of protest.
Arsenault talks to another of the university students who describes the US policy in the Middle East as both arrogant and ridiculous. He says that the US pays for the military and police here and these are the very forces that prevent the so-called democracy that the US is supposed to want for the region.
Finally Arsenault talks to a human rights activist who was jailed for 7 years for tarnishing the image of Egypt. He served 14 months before being released just before the war demonstrations started. He expressed his delight at the protests and that people were acting out against the government. Arsenault asks what is different about these protests than normal? He explains that the world events like war are seen in the home like never before and that people are now standing up to say no to war, dictatorships, US arrogance and his hope is that their next cry will be for democracy.
Arsenault asks whether he thinks that democracy is contagious? He answers yes, that if you live in a neighbourhood which is democratic eventually you will become democratic. He expands that democracy cannot be imported but it can be nurtured by outsiders. His last plea is for patience, that such things take time and small steps have to be taken to achieve the ultimate goals.
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