Egyptian discontent with US growing

War on terrorism
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afrol News, 25 October - While the US has been dropping bombs over Afghanistan for over two weeks in their campaign against the suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, key Muslim US ally Egypt is warning that the air strikes must stop before Ramadan. Government and popular discontent is growing as civilian losses increase.

As US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and State Office spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday confirmed that the air strikes against Afghanistan would continue into Ramadan if results have not been reached earlier, the worst fears of US Muslim allies were closer of coming true. As if that was not enough, the worst Israeli attacks on Palestinians since the Oslo peace process were taking place at the same time.

Donald Rumsfeld yesterday in an interview with "Voice of America" elaborated the US stand on whether to suspend its military campaign during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November. Rumsfeld said that while it was important to be sensitive to concerns of a variety of countries in the region, "the need to stop terrorism may outweigh those concerns." 

Several days ago, the Egyptian government, the US' principal Muslim ally on African soil, had warned that a prolonged US action in Afghanistan could provoke popular uprising in Egypt and the Middle East at large. As more and more civilians are killed in US air strikes, a growing part of the population is seeing the US government action as out of proportion, even if sympathy with the American people for its dreadful losses remains general.

- American attacks during Ramadan might provoke an explosive situation in many Muslim countries, today confirmed the Foreign Minister of liberal Indonesia, Hassan Wirajuda. 

Egypt is mentioned as the African Muslim country were popular reaction might be strongest if the conflict is of long life. Except for Algeria, it is the country were Muslim fundamentalism is most visible. Egypt shares a border with Palestine and shelters many Palestinian refugees. Resentment with the pro-US government of Hosni Mubarak was also strongly noticed under the Gulf War, were Egypt also was one of the US' strongest allies.

So far, however, the Cairo government has treated the crisis with care and intelligence. Though it has demonstrated its firm support in the US lead fight against terrorism, it has used its key position to protest against unwise US actions and influence US outwards signals. At the same time, it has demonstrated a will to let controlled protests against US actions take place, so as to let the worst steam out of the growing popular frustration. 

The Egyptian government, together with other key Muslim allies such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, has pressured for a controlled action to which as many Muslim nations as possible could relate. It has also pressured for strong US reactions against the Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians, partly resulting in the announced US acceptance of a future Palestinian state.

Egyptian protesters have also found unexpected freedom to demonstrate against the US air strikes, leading them not to protest or riot against the Egyptian government. The "Cairo Times" speaks of a "controlled dissent" in the Egyptian capital, where analysts are astonished by the liberty to protest. 

Egyptian students were allowed to demonstrate outside campus, a right usually unheard of. As the demonstrations went peacefully, analysts expect a secret deal between student leaders and the police, something that is denied by Cairo University students. Normally silenced Muslim Brotherhood leaders were allowed to preach in mosques, moderately protesting against US actions in Afghanistan. 

On the other hand, the police have demonstrated its strength. As thousands of prayer goers leave the Cairo Hussein mosque each Friday, the police only let them trickle out one by one to avoid crowds. Demonstrations thus were held within the mosque. Equally, the police are massively present wherever crowds are likely to gather.

So far thus, the Egyptian government seems to have plaid its cards well to avoid US or popular grievance. Further attacks on Palestinians, more Afghani civilian deaths and the attacks going on during Ramadan, as the situation now looks, could however force the government to choose between US and popular content.

Backing the US anti-terrorist campaign then, would provoke the quickly fading sympathy towards the US also to include the national government. Riots must be expected, with an uncertain outcome. Protesting US actions might on the other hand have serious diplomatic and economic consequences, as the Jordanian example during the Gulf War showed. The only realistic long-term opportunity for the Egyptian government might become official protests against the US and secret cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Algerian government, with its long armed fight against Muslim fundamentalists, is improving its international situation backing the US lead campaign against terrorism totally. According to the Arab daily "Al-Hayat", the European Union suddenly is taking the Algerian situation more seriously and has embarked on a more profound cooperation to track down what both parts now define as terrorists. For Egypt, however, the Algerian example of direct confrontation hardly may sound tempting. 

Source: Based on press reports, Cairo Times, US govt. and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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