- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

CAIRO In a workshop in the Khan Khalil bazaar, in the heart of medieval Cairo, Atef Hamid unwraps three beautifully crafted copper plates, each with designs taken from ancient and famous mosques, on which his grandfather has been laboring.
"This one took him four hours a day for a month," he said, "but now I doubt if it will fetch more than $50" so scarce are tourists since September 11.
Tourism is the whole or partial livelihood of several million Egyptians. The country's largest source of hard currency, it brought in $4.7 billion last year. The total will be significantly less than half that this year.
An entire wing of the Nile riverside Marriott luxury hotel has been closed down. Red Sea coast resorts are almost empty.
Mohammed Fathi, a taxi driver at the bazaar, summed up his mixed emotions: "I like Americans, but I don't like America. I like bin Laden for punishing America, but how can I really like him for [what] he has done to us?"
On no country save Afghanistan have the events of September 11 had a more devastating economic impact than Egypt, and few here can afford it. It could not but dampen the enthusiasm for the man who, some hoped, would single-handedly precipitate the downfall of pro-American regimes like President Hosni Mubarak's Egypt or the House of Saud.
Official support for the the Bush administration in its "war on terror" was bound to be unpopular here.
"We all knew about the people's anti-American feelings" said secularist politician Rifaat Said, "but the sheer depth of it came as a shock to me ordinary people handing out sweets when news of the trade [center] towers first came in."

Palestinian issue remains
Nowhere is public opinion more angry about the plight of the Palestinians.
"I can't disagree with anything bin Laden said about that," said a Christian woman who detests everything else that Islamic radicals stand for. Expressions of admiration for the defiance which he is seen to embody came as much from nationalist as Islamist quarters.
In their coverage of the Afghan campaign, newspapers were often gleeful about the difficulties which, at first, the Americans appeared to be facing, prolific in their forecasts that it would end in disaster, another Vietnam.
Nothing succeeds like success. It might have been a very different in Egypt today if the United States had continued to make no headway, with no letup in the civilian casualties of aerial bombardment, and with Osama bin Laden still making televised addresses to the Arab and Muslim public.
But, equally, nothing fails like failure, and everywhere Arab columnists are now pointing out how very little bin Laden has actually achieved, either "Islamically" or pragmatically.
"The people of Kabul," said one columnist in al-Nahar newspaper in Beirut, "know from bitter past experience all about the Northern Alliance militias, but what more telling advertisement of their preference for freedom over Taliban-imposed security and all the taboos of the fallen totalitarian order than the rush on barbers and the uncovering of women?"
Opined another columnist in Beirut's Daily Star: "America has won by the sheer force of its own firepower. Hence there is no longer a need to keep the Arabs sweet, no need to pressure Israel or sacrifice her interests."

'No tears for Taliban'
Among Arab intellectuals, many are the secularists, who, while hardly jubilant at what they see as another humiliation for the Arab world, are not unhappy at the defeat even one administered by the Americans. From the outset, in fact, some had predicted that bin Laden would turn out to mark a critical reversal for the whole Islamic movement just as, in the eyes of the then weak and marginalized Islamists themselves, shattering defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war had been for the dominant secular-nationalist ideology of the time.
"No one," said a commentator in al-Khaleej newspaper of Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, "can now shed tears over the demise of a movement which (ideologically at least) was a rough copy of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S., and Gush Emunim in Israel."
For moderate, mainstream Muslims, and especially their leaders, bin Laden and the violent, extremist minority of which he was the ultimate expression were always a grave embarrassment.
In Egypt, they had always distanced themselves from the now defeated, or at least dormant, domestic Islamic terror. Last month a group of their more open-minded thinkers earned the wrath of the more militant after they issued a fatwa assuring American Muslims that they had the right and duty, as American citizens, to fight in a war that would inevitably pit them against other Muslims.
The support for bin Laden was always to be found chiefly in the spontaneous, untutored emotions of the masses.
Ahmad Abdullah, psychologist and director of Web site Islam-on-Line, said: "Our people are deeply frustrated by everything in their lives. When you are frustrated, you are paralyzed, you leave it to others to act, and sometimes applaud, however wrong the act. Emotionally bin Laden did for the people what our local terrorists used to do for them when they were at war with the government. They don't really like the terrorists, but they like to see America, the big devil, being hit, just like they did their government. But their support for this Islamic Rambo is fading fast. In their hearts, they never really expected him to succeed, so they quickly adjust to his defeat."
It appears, then, that the two most challenged Arab regimes have weathered the storm.

Attack on Iraq feared
Recent visitors to Saudi Arabia say that, even in his most natural constituency, bin Laden has also lost much of his initial, champion's luster. But the region's pundits are already asking could they weather another and far greater storm that would erupt if the United States, emboldened by success in Afghanistan, turned its attention to Saddam Hussein?
It has long been forecast that an American assault on Iraq in the absence of any change of policy on Israel and Palestine would gravely imperil pro-American regimes, even those which, in principle, would dearly love to see Saddam go.
U.S. successes in Afghanistan will not have reduced that risk. For while, for the time being at least, they may have dealt a mighty blow to the physical apparatus of international terror, they have done nothing to diminish the hatreds and resentments that nurture it. If anything they have only increased them.
After the aerial bombings, the atrocious fate of Taliban prisoners and America's seeming tolerance, if not actual encouragement, of it has shocked Arab opinion, and perhaps especially the secularists, who identify with Western values.
"This," said one writer in Jordan's al-Rai newspaper, "is comparable to the way the Israelis turned a blind eye to the massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila."
"What better way," asked a vehemently anti-Islamist commentator in Kuwait's al-Qabas, "to spawn more of the terrorism they are supposed to be combating?"

Scorn for regimes
American successes have also increased the scorn for Arab regimes that treated the Arab Afghans as heroes when these were engaged in a holy war against the Russians, but which, like Mr. Mubarak's Egypt, are now using the international "war on terror" as a pretext to step up their repression of domestic opposition.
"Should they not demand to have their citizens extradited?" asked the Cairo Times. "To which the answer might be 'no:' they would rather have the Americans do their dirty work for them."
And now those economic side effects of bin Laden have added another, largely unforeseen, reason why Arab regimes, especially Egypt's, have reason to fear a blitz on Iraq. It was poverty and destitution, not just an exalted religious ideology, that impelled Egyptians into the arms of the "Arab Afghans" and most of them came from Upper Egypt, where the poverty is worst, and where recession, and the absence of tourists, is now hitting hardest.
"The secret that everyone in the country knows," wrote renowned Islamist commentator Fahmi Howeidi, "and which the government is not declaring, is that Egypt is in deep crisis and on the verge of economic disaster."
Twice in the last quarter-century, it was material distress, rather than national or Islamic causes, that drove the Egyptian masses to open insurrection. What more likely than an attack on Iraq to bring a fusion of the two?

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