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American University, Cairo
7.12.02
Politics and Economy:
View from Cairo
More on This Story:
American and Egyptian Students Speak Out

When NPR correspondent Deborah Amos was in Cairo filming for "The View from Cairo" she stopped by American University, a venerable institution of higher education. Earlier this year students from American University took to the streets in protest. To gauge the feelings of youth on the relationship between Islam and the West Amos talked to both Egyptian and American students — some of their responses are below.

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  • Q (Deborah Amos): How are you feeling about the United States these days?

    MOHAMED
    My feelings about the United States these days have not changed much, because I was not very happy with the American foreign policy ever since I was a teenager. So, I don't see a structural difference. I only see a difference in magnitude and way of applying the policy rather than a shift in a policy.

    MALE STUDENT
    I think that they take advantage of being powerful and controlling resources or something like that to force their opinion. I think it's a bit unjust, but as I told you before the interview I have nothing against them but I just hope that they, you know, try to make it more just. Try to consider what they're doing.

  • Q: Why do you think that students here are angry at the United States because of what Israel is doing? We're not there. We're not guiding them. We're not advising them in any way.

    AHMED
    Yeah, but if you count the number of vetoes that the United States have used in favor of Israel, this is like a direct contribution to the Israeli actions. The United States makes it very clear that the United States is very concerned about Israel's security and it will not accept any harm done to Israel....

    I think the main reason is that Israel fits within the United States' view of its strategic interests in the area. The strategic part is that Israel has been such a convenient entity since its creation for the West. Because of Israel, you can have borders among the Arab countries.

  • Q: Are you mad not just for the last 2 years but for long-term American policy?

    SOLAVA
    Actually I think the word "mad" is wrong, but I have been a lot more critical. "Mad" is just an expression of feelings in response of certain events, but being critical means that I am actually very against or opposed to the hypocritic nature of the American foreign policy.

    Because if you see American decision-makers or Presidents, for example, talking about human rights, talking about democracies in their American discourse, I ... would expect them to come or to see whatever happened in Jenin ... to see whatever is happening to the Iraqi children, and in their own policies then to consider human rights or to consider the democratic transitions and support, while most of the American policies are in support of authoritarian regimes.

    So this hypocritic nature or that you see that on the one hand they are using certain values whenever they want to use them and whenever it serves their interests,and when they have to actually act in support of these values, they do not do it unless it is, again, in support of their own interests within the region.

  • Q: Do you want the alliance between the United States and Egypt to change?

    MOHAMED
    Yes, definitely to change. I am not happy with having a very positive and strong bond with the United States. And it's not just because of Palestine. I mean, the problems with the United States goes all over the world. Latin America, Africa, Middle East — you have a number of examples of the U.S. interfering directly in the affairs of other countries.

  • Q: But there's a lot of foreign aid at stake!

    MOHAMED
    Israel is a democracy; therefore we're helping it; the United States claims. Egypt is not a democracy. Egypt is a very oppressive regime; the Mubarak regime is very oppressive. And it's being bailed out by the United States.

    And I just wish they leave us alone to correct ourselves.... Even if it stops aid I think we need to have our own way of improving ourselves or let's at least have a feedback system by which Mubarak cannot be bailed out by U.S. money.

    SOLAVA
    Yeah, I would like to support Mohamed on, on this....I'm not happy about the idea that we get wheat as aid from the United States this cannot make us develop our — or try to get our own wheat. We've been living without the United States till the beginning of the '70s, and I don't believe that we won't be able to survive without it.

    I'm not against having relations with the United States — of course I would like to welcome that — but having this dependent kind of relation puts limits on even our foreign policy decisions.

  • Middle East and American Media

    MALE STUDENT
    When we watch the American media... it proves beyond doubt that the Americans do not know what's going on. I don't think it's lies only; it's a combination of lies and naivete.

    Like for example when, when a suicide bombing occurs, and it gets huge attention ...it gets a much bigger focus rather than smashing a whole village in Palestine for example.

  • Q: There seems to be a gap in perception between Americans and Egyptians on suicide bombers. And I wondered if you were in support of Palestinians who do that?

    SOLAVA
    I want to be very frank with you because I won't just for sake of publicity say that I am against this. I am against the killing of civilians — either Palestinians or Israelis. However, I am trying to put myself into the position of a Palestinian girl — like those who performed suicide bombings.

    I think why? The question is — why? You ask yourself why are they doing these bombings? You see if I am a girl whose father, brother, husband and even child was killed by an Israeli — I don't have any weapon. I don't see any future for all my community.

    What else can I — what else can I do? I don't have any weapon but my body to use.

  • Q: Does the issue of Palestine make your generation different from your parents?

    MALE STUDENT
    Yes, it is a difference because for one thing the generation of my parents were promised so many things about peace and stuff like that. In our time, things have been unmasked, let's say. So this is, this is a major difference in which no one can actually sell the merchandise that was sold in the late '70s anymore.

  • Q (STUDENT TO DEBORAH AMOS): Does there exist something called an objective news reporting network?

    DEBORAH AMOS
    Probably not.

    MALE STUDENT
    Because a couple of days ago we had a seminar in our college. I asked an American professor the same question. He said he'd probably have to be an alien, someone from out of this planet.

    So I think it's useless to watch, to watch news. I am beginning to lose interest in what I see. It's all over and it's repeated again. Different names, different, different locations but it's the same story.

    People are killing each other for land, killing each other — it's madness. It doesn't make sense. I hate it. Frankly I hate it.

  • Q (Deborah Amos): Does anti-American policy in the Middle East translate to anti American?

    MATTHEW
    That has not been my experience. I've generally found, in Egypt at least, people to have a better capability to separate American foreign policy or American policy from the Americans themselves than I've found even in the West or in America. So I haven't, I haven't experienced that.

    DARA
    I was picked up in a taxi and the taxi driver was asking me, "Are you American?" And I said "Yes, I'm American." And he proceeded to sort of rail at me about how America is supporting Israel and why do I personally support Israel. And unfortunately he didn't understand me enough when I responded to know that I don't agree with my government's foreign policy in the area.

  • Q: Do you find that your views on the Middle East have changed since you've been here?

    MALE STUDENT
    Yeah I think they have. They haven't changed as I thought they would. Before I came here, I was much more sympathetic. I was much more sympathetic to trying to understand the Palestinian cause and the Israeli cause and especially understanding the, the Arab side of the issue. And this sympathy has increased. But I think it's also become more balanced with I guess a cynicism.

    It's a very cynical situation that we're in right now. And it's very difficult not to be cynical. And I think this, the experience of powerlessness to really change the situation, really to affect things is the main thing that has really changed in my view. And just this constant need to fight, a cynicism.

  • Q: And powerlessness on whose part?

    MALE STUDENT
    Powerlessness on my part as a US citizen in many respects. And powerlessness on the side of seeing the Palestinians as being able to present their case in a way that one, I find proper.

    Because it seems to me that the [U.S.] government doesn't seem to have much to do with Americans that have experience living in the Middle East or with their opinions. It seems to me that it diverges from those opinions of Americans who tend to live in the Middle East and really experience the people here.

  • Q: Do you think that because of Al Jazeera and other channels showing Palestinian violence for Egyptians it has been like September 11th every day?

    SEAN
    More so. I think even beyond September 11th it has been, because September 11th we saw buildings explode. We saw people running. But with Al Jazeera you see blood and carnage that is beyond the imagination of the living.

  • Q: Do you think if Americans saw those same images of Al Jazeera that there would be a different perception of the conflict?

    SEAN
    Sometimes I wonder. Sometimes I wonder because of how easy it is to be apathetic in American culture. I think a lot of Americans have a mindset of "we have a lot of problems in our, in this country, so we should focus on these problems."

    DARA
    And it's not even just the Al Jazeera images. Those same images that Sean's talking about, the blood and the carnage and — you see them on other channels, regular news channels that aren't on satellite. I mean you see it every day.

    And I went through several phases where I felt desensitized to it. Because there's only so many people you can see suffering. And you feel like you can't do anything. So, then eventually I have to shut it out.

    I think that it would be powerful. I actually have looked into trying to bring some sort of videotapes or something home with me when I go home after the semester's over.

  • Q: And do you feel that, that there's a gap, an information gap between home and here?

    MALE STUDENT
    Yeah, here of course the media is almost exclusively focused on the suffering of the Palestinians and it's geared around playing on the people's sympathy for the Palestinian people. And, in America, it's really almost the exact opposite of playing on people's fear of terrorism.

  • Q: What do you say when people here tell you that they support suicide bombing?

    DARA
    At first I really don't know what to say, because I address the actual issue of retribution, and that manner is not right, and revenge will never get you anywhere. And killing innocent people is never right, for whatever reason. That's my basic premise.

    But, I always end up in the conversation in some sort of middle ground, trying to ask, "What else can be done?" As I was saying, when someone is taking everything from you and attacking you and no one will help you, and no one will listen to you, what are you going to do about that?

    SEAN
    I've always liked the saying, I think it was Martin Luther King, who said, "When you fight fire with fire you only get ashes." But here I see them arguing back is that it has to be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And saying that for every Palestinian child that dies, or that suffers they see it as legitimate to take a life of a innocent civilian Israeli.

    Much like Dara said, it's this desperation that produces it.

    MALE STUDENT: Yeah, I mean it ultimately comes down to this. It's a cycle of violence on both sides. And at some point someone has to take the moral high ground and say, "I reject violence as a means."

    And who's gonna make that step? Is it gonna be Israel? Is it gonna be the Palestinians? And neither one of them have done it. And I try, in my dialogue with each side, to encourage this mindset. But right now neither side is doing such a thing.

  • Q: If it goes on longer, is this place in danger of exploding?

    MALE STUDENT
    It's a tricky question. I think it approaches that point. Particularly when the whole Jenin affair was going on, the streets were hot with anger.

    DARA
    And I think frustrations from a lot of other things are able to be voiced in this issue. I think that other things which they're not able to say, that anger that may have been simmering under the surface for a lot of years. They finally find a legitimate means of putting a voice to something. And it all just comes up at once. And I really do think that it has a real powder keg potential.

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