CONTENTS
ABOUT
A Gannett News Service special report Posted July 14, 2002

 

 

 

RELATED STORIES
U.S. battling image as arrogant superpower

Essay: Perception of U.S. and its policies lend to combustible environment

INTERACTIVE MAP:
U.S. relations with the world

CONTINUE ON TO: PART 2

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Strength of its culture makes U.S. loved, hated on Arab street




CAIRO, Egypt — He doesn't have much by Western standards. Two dusty acres of okra, peppers and peanuts, a home made of cinderblock and mud, a television hooked to satellite — a must when you live in Egypt's desert scrub, closer to the pyramids than to downtown Cairo.

But even here, 5,800 miles from the world's superpower, Saber Mohamed Mossa feels as though he knows the United States.

"Since I realized life," says Mossa of his birth 45 years ago, "this is what I hear: The Americans are good people. They give support to the Arab people. … On the TV I see American officials on the news, and they (behave) with respect."
Today, however, he's not so sure. Speaking to an Egyptian interpreter, he pauses and weighs recent events: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the killings of Palestinians by the U.S.-backed Israeli military, Palestinian suicide bombings.
The mayhem can be traced to "the master of the world" — America — and to the power it wields, Mossa says. Why doesn't the master call off Israel? he asks.

His Muslim wife places a fist over her heart and speaks of Palestinian children killed by American-made weapons. Egypt's government-controlled media doesn't often dwell on the Israeli deaths. So Sabah Sayed Ali focuses on the dead Muslim children. She makes a slicing motion at her throat.

"Haram," she says sharply, meaning "forbidden."

Her tone is telling of the times, pre- and post-Sept. 11. Of perceptions, East and West. It's telling also of what some Arabs see as the new Cold War — a Muslim versus non-Muslim world view — and of the dangers, real and imagined.
"Do they have security?" a doorman at the Nile Hilton asks an Egyptian interpreter, concerned for the safety of two light-skinned, fair-haired journalists escorted in Cairo. "Are you armed?"

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Land of paradoxes

Contradictions and tensions seem endless here.
The U.S. flag is torn and trampled at the same demonstrations where Americans are greeted with handshakes, as if American voters bear no responsibility for the actions of their government.

The city’s 16 million residents wake each day to the amplified cries of muezzins summoning the public to prayers while friendly Muslim guards stand sentry over a century-old Jewish synagogue, but worshippers rarely show. On a spring Sabbath, only a calico cat wanders the dusty pews.

Cairo's casinos welcome foreigners but by law refuse locals. The imams who preside over Cairo's forest of minarets revile loose Western morals, but "Sex in the City" and other American exports thrive in replay.

Television gives American lifestyles the appeal of forbidden fruit, says American University professor Abdallah Schleifer, a former NBC News correspondent living in the Middle East since 1965.

"The American woman is seen as sexually available," he says. "Just about any American woman walking the streets of Cairo (alone) will get her butt pinched."

Five years ago, Muslim militants slaughtered 58 foreign tourists near Luxor, Egypt, in an effort to drive a larger wedge between East and West. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 for similar reasons.

Yet Cairo's 83-year-old American University — guarded heavily by Egyptian police since Sept. 11 — is revered as Egypt’s Ivy League.

Standing statue-still amid a raucous anti-U.S. demonstration in downtown Cairo, 40-year-old Iman Badawi would appear to all the West as the antagonist. She wears the galabeya dress and hijab head covering of her Muslim faith, and in her hands are several posters the size of traffic signs. She shuffles them like TV cue cards:

"Sharon + Bush (EQUALS) Real & Only Axis of Evil," reads one, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Go to Hell Enemies Forever," reads another.

"We do not have anything against Americans,” Badawi says politely, in perfect English. “What we have is against Bush's administration.” She offers her American Hotmail dot-com e-mail address.

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Is it envy or Israel?

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans sounded expert on the subject of Islamic extremism.

"They hate us for who and what we are,” CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather told David Letterman on Sept. 17: “They want to kill us and destroy us."

Three days later, Bush told the country, "They hate our freedoms; our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

On Oct. 1, the cover of the National Review read: "The United States is a target because we are powerful, rich and good. We are resented for our power, envied for our wealth, and hated for our liberty."

Schleifer, 67, a Muslim convert who was reared in New York as an American Jew, describes those assertions as naive and arrogant — two adjectives attributed to Americans globally.

"This says, ‘We are great, we are wonderful,’" he says, holding a copy of the National Review. "That is profoundly simplistic. It sounds more like the knee-jerk, anti-American rhetoric coming out of Europe."

Egyptians trace the true source of anti-American hostility to their country’s northeast border.

"Arabs see American-made tanks and American-made guns going in and smashing up the homes of the Palestinians,” Schleifer said.

It's no coincidence, Egyptians say, that Israel, a country about the size of New Jersey, is one of only eight nations known to have nuclear weapons.

"Israel is an abnormality fed by your military money," says retired Michigan State University professor Ashraf El-Bayoumi, a resident and native of Egypt and a naturalized U.S. citizen.

As he spoke, he helped rally Arabs at an anti-U.S. demonstration in Cairo marking the 1948 creation of Israel. In protests in March and April, a McDonald's was pelted with rocks by secondary school students and a KFC next to Cairo University was ransacked and closed.

"We don't want your (expletive) food," El-Bayoumi says. "We don't want your globalization."

Last year, he helped establish the General Committee for the Boycott of American and Zionist Goods and Companies, which targets six U.S. brand names including McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Marlboro — all ubiquitous in the Middle East.

"We don't want your politics or your aid," El-Bayoumi shouts. "Please take your money and leave."

Egypt has received about $50 billion in U.S. military and economic aid in the last quarter century. El-Bayoumi and other critics consider it a leash on the moderate Egyptian government, which is generally pro-American and has held to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

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Love-hate, or just love?

But without U.S. military and economic aid — $1.9 billion, or 2 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product, is budgeted for 2003 — the Egyptian government might be overthrown by Muslim militants and its infrastructure would be "in the forest," much as it was 20 years ago, says Egyptian playwright Ali Salem.

"The taxpayer in America has not wasted his money," Salem says. "We are an ally. We are going toward liberalism, actually. And you have gained many things; the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt is quite respected."

Salem, 66, is controversial for visiting Israel and advocating peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Sipping Turkish coffee and chain-smoking Marlboros, he dismisses the notion that Americans are hated.

"Open the door to America and all these men will go to submit a request to go to America, these same people who are ready to demonstrate in the streets against America."

Cairo is a city with Manhattan's frantic pace, Washington's sense of history and Hollywood's love of cinema. A fortress manned by armed guards protects the seven huge satellite dishes that supply foreign television here.

Nike, Ford and Microsoft products are everywhere, along with Radio Shacks and Applebee's restaurants and Gold's Gyms. Muslims praying outside downtown mosques are framed by advertisements for Polo Sport and Coca-Cola — the legacy of Sadat’s decision to fling open Egypt's doors to trade.

Arab fascination with America, Salem says, is “a very severe pathological love."

"In Egypt, we would say, 'La bahebak wa la akdar ala boedak — I don't love you and can't bear being away from you,'" he says.
In the hours and days after Sept. 11, South Korean children prayed for America outside the U.S. embassy in Seoul. Bells tolled in Austria and the Czech Republic. Portugal declared two days of mourning and "The Star-Spangled Banner" played at Buckingham Palace, in the streets of Paris and at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

Even in the West Bank and Gaza, there was a great tide of sadness. Palestinian children were filmed celebrating with treats of free candy, but that was an isolated incident magnified by the news media, says Fathi Arafat, the brother of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"Over such death, believe me, there was deep sadness," he says.

So even for the lone superpower often characterized as an arrogant bully, there was empathy.

An Egyptian interpreter who is a citizen of Egypt and Canada and hopes to move someday to America, sees the duality.

"You are so powerful, we admire you,” he says. “You are so powerful, we are insulted."

RELATED STORIES
U.S. battling image as arrogant superpower

Essay: Perception of U.S. and its policies lend to combustible environment

INTERACTIVE MAP:
U.S. relations with the world

CONTINUE ON TO: PART 2

Return to top of page | Return to contents

©2002, Gannett News Service

 

 


"Since I realized life," says Mossa of his birth 45 years ago, (this is what I hear): The Americans are good people. They give support to the Arab people. … On the TV
I see American
officials on the news, and they (behave)
with respect."

Saber Mohamed Mossa
An Egyptian farmer


Mossa's farm near
Giza, Egypt

 

 

 

 

 

 


McDonald's is one of many American franchises that have made their way to Cairo, Egypt.

 

 

 


"The American
woman is seen as sexually available.
Just about any American woman walking the streets of Cairo (alone) will get her butt pinched."

American University
professor Abdallah Schleifer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"We don't want your (expletive) food. We don't want your globalization."

Egyptian resident and
retired Ameircan professor Ashraf El-Bayoumi
(center)

 


Egyptians gathered in May at Mogamma Square in Cairo, Egypt, to protest the
American policy toward
Israel. The anti-American protest was the first
approved by the Egyptian government.

 

 

 

 

 

 


"The taxpayer in America has not
wasted his money.
We are an ally. We
are going toward liberalism, actually. And you have
gained many things;
the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt is quite respected."

Egyptian playwright
Ali Salem

Gannett News Service
photos by Heather Martin
Morrissey