In Egypt, rage against Israel but little appetite for war

 

Cairo

For 30 years, Egyptians simmered with anger toward Israel, frustrated that their longtime leader Hosni Mubarak wasn't aggressive enough toward their hated neighbour. But under Mubarak's successor, few in Egypt seem to be spoiling for a fight.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has condemned Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip in recent days and has sent high-level delegations in support of Hamas, the Brotherhood-aligned Islamist group that rules Gaza and that Israel considers a terrorist organization. But Morsi has sought peace, not war, and few in Cairo interviewed Sunday seemed to think it should be any different.

From residents of a deeply conservative Cairo neighborhood to visitors at a memorial to the last major war between Egypt and Israel, almost no one was seeking war, no matter how strongly they condemned Israel.

"We are all against Israel," said Adel Mohammed, 35, a music teacher who was chaperoning a squealing school group during a visit to the October War Panorama, a large memorial to what is mythologized in Egypt as a decisive victory over Israel in a 1973 conflict also known as the Yom Kippur War.

"But Morsi can help people in Gaza through aid or money. We don't want to be involved in a war," Mohammed said. "Egypt is not stable economically."

The Egyptian government has been walking a fine line between giving as much support as possible to Hamas and Gaza without violating a 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The deal strictly limits Egypt's military presence in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel. Many Egyptians resented Mubarak for what they saw as an overly subservient attitude toward the neighboring country. During Israel's three-week military campaign against Gaza in 2008-2009, Mubarak was seen as acquiescing to it.

This time around, Morsi has recalled Egypt's ambassador in Tel Aviv and sent his prime minister to visit Hamas's offices in Gaza City, which were subsequently destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. He has been trying to broker a cease-fire and will host U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Cairo on Monday. Also Monday, Mohamed Saad Katatny, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, will visit Gaza.

But Morsi has stopped well short of taking an aggressive military stance against Israel. Actions have been symbolic rather than explicit. On Sunday, the administrator of his Facebook page posted a photograph of him meeting with Lt. Gen. Reda Mahmoud Hafez, the Egyptian minister of state for military production, and another of him meeting with Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, the head of the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad movement, and Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas.

Inside the October War Panorama, whose grounds display Egyptian fighter jets and captured Israeli tanks, a narrator reads a triumphal account of the attack against Israel that started the 1973 war. That conflict ended with a cease-fire, Israel retaining control of most of the Sinai Peninsula, and both Egypt and Israel capturing each other's territory.

The highlight of the exhibition is a diorama and 360-degree mural of a battle in which Egyptian forces overtook Israeli troops near the Suez Canal.

"Whenever I see it, I feel we are stronger than Israel," said Mohammed Yusuf, 40, a civil servant who said he visits the monument annually. But, he said, he was not looking for war this time around.

"We have a peace deal, and we are committed to it," he said.

Elsewhere in Cairo, in a northeast neighborhood that is a center of ultraconservative Salafi Islamic life in the city, attitudes toward the ongoing Gaza conflict were similarly mixed.

"The Israeli government is trying to test the Egyptians. They want to see what we will do if they go to war with Gaza," said Abdel Aziz Matrawi, 24, a worker at an Islamic bookstore, where a sermon about the Israeli offensive blared on the radio.

"Mubarak slept 24 hours a day on a bed made by the Israelis," Matrawi said, accusing the former president of collusion. "But our response will be diplomacy," he said.

Two months ago, Matrawi's neighborhood was a center for protests against an anti-Islam video that was made in the United States and posted on YouTube. The Salafi Nour party helped spur protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, sparking a wave of anti-American rallies in many Muslim-majority countries.

At the time, Morsi more clearly struggled between the need to appease an angry domestic audience and the desire to maintain billions of dollars of Western aid that streams into the country. It took days before a stern phone call from President Barack Obama spurred Morsi to clamp down on the protests.

This time, anger in the neighborhood is far less impassioned, though some people say they are ready for a war with Israel if need be. More are worried about Egypt's struggling economy.

"There are bigger priorities. We are coming out of a revolution. War is not logical right now," said Abu Rawda, 45, a clothing seller who provided only his nickname.

---

Muhammad Mansour contributed to this report.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own