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Map of Egypt
7.12.02
Politics and Economy:
Transcript: The View from Cairo
More on This Story:
Egyptian TV News Commentator Emad Eldin Adeeb Transcript

DEBORAH AMOS: It is the top rated show on Egyptian television WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?

As it turns out - just about everyone. Contestants come from every segment of Egyptian society to compete in this import from the West.

Satellite dishes? They've got those, too. On every rooftop,on every apartment block, every where — beaming in the news.

And there's plenty of American fast food — another import, Gold's Gym, Egyptians pump their iron near the Nile.

Much of the adopted American culture comes with Egypt's 23-year alliance with the United States.

In a country that embraces so much of the American way of life — why are so many Egyptians now hostile to the United States? Because of the images they see of the Palestinian -Israeli conflict.

MAHMOUD EL KAISSOUNI: Every morning we wake up, we see blood, and we see children killed. Bullets and babies and in ladies and in men

AZIZ EL KAISSOUNI: We watch the gunships taking out Palestinian buildings everyday and they are manufactured in the United States.

EMAD ELDIN ADEEB: America only looks to the Middle East from an Israeli point of view.

DEBORAH AMOS: You can see the anger in the local press. You don't need to read Arabic to get this message — the American flag with Israel's Star of David, Ariel Sharon rolls a tank over the body of Uncle Sam.

And it was this anger that brought thousands of Egyptians to the streets this spring — demonstrations to denounce Egypt's alliance with the United States, and to openly threaten the Egyptian government itself.

DR. ASHRAF BAYOUMI: If the Egyptian government continues its path of depending on the United States, and submitting to the pressure of the United States, the wrath of the Egyptian people will bring down that government.

DEBORAH AMOS: The government of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek. A favorite in the West. Meeting with American presidents for more than 20 years.

But in Egypt it is a common belief the 2-billion dollars a year in foreign aid from the United States has made Mubarek's government a servant of American interests.

In the states people don't understand it, they say we give Egypt all this money and they're anti-American. We don't get it.

EMAD EL-DIN ADEEB: I have to tell you, there is a difference between, and this is the maj…the key of understanding the whole situation. There is a difference between being anti-American and anti the way the American administration is handling the Palestinian issue. It's two different subjects.

DEBORAH AMOS: It is a subject TV personality Emad Rldin Adeeb deals with a lot these days on his nightly television talk shown seen across the Middle East. He's known as the Larry King of Egypt. Educated in the states, Adeeb calls himself a moderate. He has always supported Egypt's alliance with the United States. But now, what Adeeb calls U.S. bias towards Israel makes moderation hard to defend.

EMAD EL-DIN ADEEB: We don't want America to be anti-Israel. We don't want Americans to kill Israelis. We don't want America to embargo Israel. To veto Israel. We understand the strong bond between them."

DEBORAH AMOS: But the problem, says Adib — Egyptians believe there is no U.S. support or sympathy for the Palestinians. Egyptians view the Palestinians as oppressed people under siege, their land occupied, suicide bombs as acts of desperate last resort...A message repeated night after night on Arabic satellite channels.

When Western news programs highlighted President Bush's remarks about Israeli P.M Ariel Sharon....

PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace.

DEBORAH AMOS: Arab television stations broadcast these pictures of Israeli tanks occupying Palestinians towns.

EMAD EL-DIN ADEEB: When someone comes and tells me Ariel Sharon is a man of peace, what do you expect in the Arab public opinion and then you want me--as a TV presenter to come out and try to defend the American policy. I have nothing. I'm speechless. I have not weapons to answer my public back.

DEBORAH AMOS: Adib's talk show is on cable — and that is part of an information revolution in the Arab world.

The most important change is the new satellite news channels...from Syria, from Lebanon, news from Bahrain. For the first time in the Arab world there are so many channels, Arab governments can no longer censor the news, of filter it to shape public opinion.

The most well known satellite station is Al Jazeera, based in the Gulf State of Qatar.

This is how Al Jazeera packaged the Israel Prime Minister's message of peace.

PRIME MINISTER SHARON (FROM TAPE): I came here with a message of peace, I believe that we can live together with the Palestinians We want peace with the Palestinians.

DEBORAH AMOS: A presentation you won't see in Western newscasts.

Al Jazeera makes no apologies for reporting on the Middle East from an Arab point of view.

Egyptian families can now watch every detail of the Palestinian uprising and Israel's efforts to suppress it.

Images that have inflamed public opinion in a country where 65 percent of the population is under 25 years old.

MONA MAKRAM EBEID: I can see my students how angry they are how frustrated they are. They just want to do something.

DEBORAH AMOS: Mona Makram Ebeid, a former member of parliament, is now a university professor.

MONA MAKRAM EBEID: After the cruelty that they have seen and the brutality with which the Palestinians were treated. I mean, they are very angry. Who do they blame for that? They blame mainly Sharon, obviously, but their anger is very much geared to the United States.

DEBORAH AMOS: Ebeid teaches here at the American University in Cairo where for over 80 years the elite of Egypt have studied. Many have gone on to graduate schools in the United States, then come home to take their comfortable place in the ruling class.

So it was a surprise earlier this year when thousands of students from the American University in Cairo took to the streets — and defied the police.

GIRL: We want to send a message to all the Palestinians who are right there, who are defending the country, we are very proud of them, they are very brave persons and we will always support them.

DEBORAH AMOS: For the first time they took aim at two targets Israel...and the United States.

They joined students from Cairo's more radical campuses, such as this engineering school — where these young architecture students told me they would volunteer to be suicide bombers for the Palestinian cause, with no apparent sympathy for Israeli casualties.

WOMEN: The least we can do is give them our souls, what more can we do? If we could, we would.

DEBORAH AMOS: You would leave Cairo. You would go to Palestine. You would kill yourself?

WOMEN: This is not just talk. We demonstrated and we signed our names with those who want to go become martyrs.

DEBORAH AMOS: So far, they haven't gone, violent demonstrations have stopped, too. Now, the American University in Cairo looks like American campuses in the 1960's. It's a teach in. And like the America of the 1960's - Egypt's young generation has become more politically active.

MONA MAKRAM EBEID: Because people are angry for many other things than the Palestinian cause. There are frustrations, as I told you, economically, Socially, politically. Now you go into any university campus you find people discussing Politics, which they didn't before and taking stands. Yesterday I had to stop people who were fighting with fists.

DEBORAH AMOS: That's new?

MONA MAKRAM EBEID: That's new.

DEBORAH AMOS: And new to hear students voice such open criticism of the Mubarek government. Mohamed waked studies political science.

MOHAMED WAKED: The number of people who are politicized is increasing. The number of people who are not happy with Mubarek specifically are increasing as well. The Mubarek regime is not a democracy. Egypt is a very repressive system, regime. The Mubarek regime in very repressive. It's being bailed out by the United States. And I just wish they leave us alone to correct ourselves.

DEBORAH AMOS: To get that point across, many young Egyptians back a boycott of the symbols of the United States: Nike, Marlboro, American washing detergent, and fast food chains, including McDonald's.

Dr. Ashraf-Bayoumi is one of the leaders of the boycott of American products. He's a scientist, who taught in the United States for twenty years.

He took me to an Egyptian fast food restaurant. The dish here is called cosheri - rice, noodles, special sauce, all delivered quick and cheap. It is a traditional Egyptian meal, making a come back especially with students as the boycott of American fast food gains popular support.

DR. ASHRAF-BAYOUMI: I was just asking him if there was a change in customers in the past several weeks as a result of the presumably as a result of the boycott of McDonald's, and he said yes.

DEBORAH AMOS: Really?

OWNER: Yeah,

DEBORAH AMOS: More are coming?

OWNER: Yeah.

DEBORAH AMOS: And it's not just fast food, across Egypt; sales of some America products are down by 20 to 50 percent. Many believe McDonald's tried to neutralize the impact of the Egyptian boycott when it hired a well-known singer who's famous tune - "I hate Israel" topped the charts. But complaints from outside Egypt stopped that campaign before it got off the ground.

Businessman Mahmoud el Kaissouni represents more than 500 American fast food restaurants, including McDonald's. He warns the boycott of American goods hurts Egyptian business.

MAHMOUD EL KAISSOUNI: The United States doesn't even feel what's going on. I mean, this boycotting is not affecting the United States in any way. I don't think so. But it's seriously affecting Egyptians.

DEBORAH AMOS: It is an argument he's made to thousands of Egyptians on television talk shows, but at home, he faces his toughest critic, his 22-year old son, Aziz.

AZIZ KAISSOUNI: McDonald's yes is a franchise, it is run by Egyptians, at the end of the year, a royalty is still paid to an American corporation that has in one sense or another proclaimed it's support of Israel.

DEBORAH AMOS: Father and son are shaped by their times. 60-year-old Mahoud el Kaissouni, a former officer in the Egyptian Army, says his country has benefited from peace with Israel, and a close relationship with the United States.

MAHMOUD EL KAISSOUNI: Americans are the super power and they are helping us also in many many aspects of daily life and supporting us. It would be illogical to to break relations because this would be, how do you say? crazy.

DEBORAH AMOS: But Aziz has been radicalized by the Palestinian uprising and sees no use for the alliance with the United States.

AZIZ EL KAISSOUNI: I have nothing but contempt for the alliance. Everyone has decided that it's wiser and pragmatic to side with the United States...

AZIZ EL KAISSOUNI: We have sided with a state whose policies actively antagonistic to our values and our beliefs.

DEBORAH AMOS: But in this family, the father understands the anger of his son, and his son's generation.

MAHMOUD EL KAISSOUNI: Sometime we reach an agreement, and sometimes we don't. But this does not effect our home and our relations and the tranquility in this house. I wouldn't like to change that. Aziz is a man of principals. I do not to force him to think the way that I want him to think.

DEBORAH AMOS: Like many Egyptians his age, Aziz is far more religious than his father.

AZIZ EL KAISSOUNI: We've lost a lot of our original values — we've become a lot worse, worse in a lot of sense, a lot more materialistic, a lot greedier, a lot more corrupt in a lot of senses. And you realize that closer adherence to religious values would remedy a lot of those problems.

DEBORAH AMOS: He turned his beliefs into action by working for an Islamic web site and he's often joined demonstrations organized by Egypt's oldest Islamic movement, The Muslim Brotherhood. Banned as a political party, The Muslim Brotherhood want a more religious state...That worries Mona Makram Abeid.

MONA MAKRAM ABEID: They're very clever, they're very well organized, they're very disciplined, and they are gaining, they're filling ranks which were not filled before.

DEBORAH AMOS: In particular a younger generation looking for an alternative to a government they see as undemocratic and out of touch.

MONA MAKRAM ABEID: Of course extremists now are capitalizing by saying, you see, they're giving in, we're the only ones who are fighting. We are the only ones who know how to mobilize support.

DEBORAH AMOS: An older generation remembers when The Muslim Brotherhood mobilized for violence against the state — even attempting to assassinate Egyptian President Nasser in the 1950's and 60's. But by the early 1970's, they had renounced violence.

For a younger generation this is The Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Gamal Heshmat, a university professor, a medical doctor. A member of parliament. He, and 16 others ran as independent candidates to get around the ban against their political party. We met in his Cairo office.

DR. GAMAL HESHMAT: The problem of the Arab nations today is their leaders. They control life inside their countries and make decisions on their own.

DEBORAH AMOS: In parliament, The Muslim Brotherhood wants a hand in those decisions and they've been building political support by offering social services the government fails to provide.

For example, this hospital in Dr. Heshmat's district, built with money from Islamic charities to serve the poor.

But it is The Muslim Brotherhood's stand on the Palestinian issue that is now their biggest appeal, which makes them a serious challenge to the government. Dr. Heshmat wants to send weapons to the Palestinians, and even send Egyptians to fight.

He and others in parliament call for ending relations with Israel and reducing ties with the United States. It is a message young Egyptians want to hear.

DR.GAMAL HESHMAT: It is arrogant and wrong for America alone to define terrorism. We want action that makes us feel that America stands by justice, even if it means standing by Muslims.

DEBORAH AMOS: But is the U.S. willing to stand by Muslims? All Egyptians are watching closely in a country where traditional Islam is on the rise.

At American University where the Islamic veil is sometimes a fashion statement. In downtown Cairo, where prayers spill onto the sidewalk, and even here, where moderate Islam is comfortable with imported U.S. dreams.

But Egyptians say, U.S. policy in the Middle East is undermining the moderates, and these TV images are fueling the rage of a new generation.


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