Thursday, May 27, 2004
I received many questions concerning the US aid to Egypt. I’ll answer them all below.
Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid, Israel is the largest. We get $2 billion annually, $1.2 billion in military aid and $800 million in economic assistance. Civilians obviously benefit from the $800 million only. The US started its aid program after Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel; however, the first aid package arrived when Egypt left the soviet orbit and joined the US orbit after the 1973 war. The US became committed to the government of Egypt ever since.
The $800 million cover a wide range of socioeconomic programs ranging from importing subsidized American wheat to educational campaigns in rural areas.
The average Egyptian believes that US aid comes with a price tag on it. With the rising anti-Americanism in the country, all sorts of conspiracy theories run wild. Some say that the aid is aimed at “enslaving” the Egyptian government and forcing it to succumb to US demands. Others believe that it’s aimed at “silencing” the Egyptian government towards what is happening in Palestine. At the height of the Palestinian uprising, some voices demanded that Egypt refuses to accept any US aid and “break loose” from this chain.
Personally, I find the issue of US aid so ironic. I fully understand that the US wanted to “entice” both the Egyptian and Israeli parties into forging a peace agreement, and that the US is committed to both countries. However, I really wish to wake up one morning and find that Mozambique, Western Sahara, Angola, and Kenya became the largest recipients of US economic aid and not Israel, Egypt, Columbia, and Jordan.
Do you provide opinion for local consumption? Newspapers, TV, radio, etc.
No, the media is much regulated; there are few channels where we can freely discuss political and social issues. The internet and satellite channels are the only venues.
Is the hotel, the Garden City House, still in existence in Cairo?
No, but there are numerous lavish hotels in Cairo today. Four Reasons, Hyatt, and Concord recently opened some very fine hotels here.
Do Egyptians truly accept the viewpoints of the media, or do they have other opinions in private?
No body believes the media where local news is concerned. Headlines such as “The government assures that 40,000 jobs will be available” are never believed. However, we soak every bit of anti-America news found.
Do Egyptians consider madrassas to be real schools?
If you mean madrassas a la the ones find in Pakistan, we don’t have them. The government keeps a very tight grid on schools and their curriculum.
Are there any militia-type "enforcers" from the Muslim Brotherhood or similar groups making sure disagreement is punished?
No, you won’t find someone with a stick hitting any unveiled girl he sees. However, such things might happen on a very small scale in rural areas where the government’s grip is looser.
Is the standard of living in Egypt rising or falling?
London Bridge is falling down falling down. It was rising in the mid 90s, but currently recession and unemployment are having a party.
What are the economic conditions in Egypt? Is there private property or does the state own the property?
Economic conditions were bad for the past 5 or 6 years. However, the government is undergoing a program of privatization to catch up with the world economy. Some people are happy and others are upset with these policies, it depends upon which economic school you subscribe to.
How deep is the Anti-Americanism?
Deeper than the deepest ocean. However, American people as people are not hated. I think Egyptian anti-Americanism differs from French anti-Americanism in a sense that an American tourist is welcomed with an open arm while this same tourist might face some “envy/hidden hate/stereotyping” from a Frenchman walking in Paris.
How much of a hold do the militant Islamists have on the people?
It depends upon the person, how frustrated he is, how easily can he soak what another person is telling him, how religious he is, and how he tends to interpret his religion. I can say that militant Islam is a huge huge force in Egypt, so strong that the Muslim Brotherhood is considered to be the most powerful opposition body. They feed on the people’s sense of frustration and humiliation. Kind off like what Khomenei did 25 years ago with the Iranian people who were frustrated with the authoritarian rule of the secular Shah. Today, their children know that their parents followed the wrong guy. Egypt didn’t reach this point; we’re still in the “Khomenei” period.
What will be the response in Egypt if Iraq becomes a free and prosperous country?
It will make us think and think. That’s why I support the US efforts in Iraq. A free decent country in the Middle East will definitely have repercussions across the region.
How are the efforts for expansion of ariable land through irrigation proceeding?
There is a huge project called Toshka in Southern part of Egypt. Desert land was turned into ariable land. However, some people blame this massive project for sucking badly needed finances.
What is the general opinion of your people about the War in Iraq?
They’re clap for anything that will upset the US. It is occupation and the US must get out (without giving a damn rat’s butt about the political future of the country). You get the idea.
Why do Arabs hate the Israeli's is it because of religion?
Yes and no. 60 years ago, there were Jews in almost every Arab country. The largest department stores in Egypt were owned by Jews. Anti-Semitism was born when the state of Israel was born. People started clearing the dust from their Qurans and started quoting all the anti-Jewish scriptures found there. Now hating Jews is a normal reaction towards the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some minds declare that our fight is not with the Jews but with Zionists (those who believe that Jews have a right to have a country in historical Palestine). Anyway, Jews are definitely not cool here.
What kind of reforms are going on in Egypt? If so how real is the talk or is it just lip service?
Even if it is just lip service, I think it is a good start. Yes, for the very first time the word “reform” is mentioned. When will they match words with actions? I don’t know. I think if Iraq turned out to be decent, it will definitely give the reform agenda a good push.
How do you and/or most Egyptians feel about the ancient pieces from your country that have been stolen and scattered about the world?
There have been efforts to return them to Egypt especially from Britain, our past colonial ruler. Some did return but others were kept in Western museums as “ambassadors” of Egyptian history. That’s as far as I know.
How does Egypt combat terrorism and the hardliners that promote it? Or does Egypt even bother with it aside from saying they do?
You know Abu Ghraib? Multiply is by 1 million and you get the picture. Islamists are the government’s main opposition and they are not tolerated, period.
To what extent do you think that the Soviet Union and associated Marxist-Socialist ideology during the Cold War have contributed to the development of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East?
In Egypt there are 2 main opposition groups that formed a recent surprising alliance to counter “US attacks”: Islamists and the remnants of socialist leftovers from the Nasser era (we call them Nasserists). Those two groups hate the USA with every ounce of their flesh even though they have 2 different local agendas. On June 6th Bush will go to Italy. You’ll see Italian communists, tree huggers, and immigrant Islamists joining hands in rallies against him. You get the picture. Hate of the American government is widespread here, religion is the main thing that adds oil to the fire. Now it is not just I-don’t-agree-with-US-policies but rather I-don’t-agree-with-those-christian-jewish-crusaders.
how bad is the overall sentiment towards Israeli's in Egypt?
Bad, bad, bad, bad, ba, zzzzz
Also, why aren't Egyptians ever having their holidays in Israel? We do have a peace treaty.....
Before the uprising, some Egyptians did go to Eilat and enjoy the sun there even though those were still frowned upon. Today, nobody can go to Israel with such conditions. Egypt withdrew its ambassador remember.
What do your friends think about communicating with the blog readers?
I am not aware of any Egyptian blogs except http://arabstreetbum.blogspot.com
He once posted a ferocious attack on me without giving me any notice. I emailed him my response and I’m waiting for his.
Is it true that the Copts can't build any new churches due to some Ottoman-era law?
Yes, however, they can build churches after going through various crippling bureaucratic procedures. Getting a license to build a mosque will take days; getting a license to build a church will take months. I am totally against that. However, the government has taken various measures to address the “Coptic problem” after it received international scrutiny. www.copts.com is a site by Copts in the Diaspora.
what are the major newspapers in Egypt?
Egypt’s main newspapers are the Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, and Al-Gomhoriya. They are all government owned. Most of the papers are owned by the state. However, various opposition political parties have their own small newspapers as well. Recently, there is a trend going on to start independent papers. All papers are free to criticize the ministries, the president and national security issues are untouchables.
why do the opinions of the majority of your countrymen differ so much from yours?
I am realistic by nature, I refuse to follow, I like to have an independent view on things. Besides, you will always find a rebel in every society. Yesterday I was talking with an Iraqi who works as a translator with the US army. He is very pro-America. I was shocked when he told me that he is from the Adhamiya, the Sunni district in Baghdad. This area is the most pro-Saddam and anti-US area in Baghdad. He told me how some people sent his mother a message threatening to kill her son if he didn’t stop working with the US army. See, I’m like him, I refuse to follow, I’m a rebel.
I have often wondered why there are so very few voices from the middle east region who embrace the theories of liberalism and who prefer religion to be that of a personal nature rather than a collective rule of the land.
There are. However, they are muted by the tremendous force of radicalism that emerged in the region. About 8 months ago, a liberal newspaper started appearing on Egypt’s newsstands. Before its release, several commentators, especially the Islamic among them, accused the paper of receiving funds from the US State department. The paper is in fact very liberal in its thinking (against radicalism, etc), however, its editorials are very anti-America in order to combat this accusation and simply to be regarded as an “inside” paper. I used to buy this paper on a regular basis but ceased to do so. I hate anti-Americanism for the sake of anti-Americanism.