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Special Reports Last Updated: Jun 7th, 2007 - 14:15:17

Egypt, a vibrant land of contrasts and contradictions -- Part 3: People, politics and economics
By Bev Conover
Online Journal Editor & Publisher

Jun 6, 2007, 02:36

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Egyptians are warm, hospitable people. They invite you into their homes, either kiss you on both cheeks or shake your hand and immediately offer you refreshments. Contrary to what we�re told in the US, Egyptians and people from many other Arab countries don�t hate or want to harm Americans; they abhor the Bush regime, in particular, and the Washington imperialists, in general.

Mention George W. Bush and every Egyptian I spoke with, from a millionaire businessman and his wife to a taxi driver and a maid, had the same reaction: They hate what Bush and his whole administration have done and are doing, especially the slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan and their support for the Israeli Zionists.

Given the thousands of years of Egyptian history and the foreign invaders who have occupied their land, Egyptians, unlike Americans, don�t deny the reality of conspiracies. And the most recent conspiracy in their eyes was the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York�s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which they see as an �inside job.�

The views of the Egyptians I spoke with about 9-11 match a 2002 Gallup poll and a 2005 Pew poll that showed most Muslims around the world don�t believe Arabs carried out the 9-11 attacks.

They see 9-11 as a Bush scheme to provide the necessary excuse to attack Afghanistan and launch and illegal war against Iraq. There also is speculation that Bush will strike Iran just ahead of the 2008 US elections, using that as an excuse to suspend the elections and hold on to power. And that was before the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive Bush signed on May 9, giving himself the power to do precisely that, received much publicity.

While Egypt has been officially at peace with Israel, since former President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978, the people aren�t. They still haven�t forgiven Israel for its preemptive strike that launched the 1967 war in which Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Though Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt upon signing the Camp David Accords, Egyptians told me they believe Israel still has designs on it and they feel Israel also has designs on Lebanon. In addition, they expressed outage over Israel�s determination to annihilate the Palestinians

Though Egypt is a republic, it is hardly a democracy, therefore, I agreed not to use names.

On the one hand, Egyptians with whom I spoke view President Hosni Mubarak as a �dictator� and a handmaiden of Washington and, on the other hand, admit that Mubarak is all that is standing between them and an Islamic takeover.

There is even the feeling that Mubarak, who was Anwar Sadat�s vice president, was behind Sadat�s assassination. �That is why,� one told me, �Mubarak has never appointed a vice president.�

If Mubarak is a dictator, how does he manage to hold on to power or are the elections fixed?

Mubarak, I was told, has allies among business owners who benefit from his regime and �they bribe their workers with various incentives to vote for him.�

Egyptians believe Mubarak, who turned 79 on May 4, is grooming his son, Gamal, 43, to succeed him. While Gamal and his bride, Khadiga al-Gamal, were celebrating at their second wedding reception in Sharm el-Sheik on his father�s birthday, protestors gathered in Cairo�s main square to chant, �Gamal can marry Khadiga, but he can�t marry Egypt.�

Yet, one Egyptian who is no fan of Hosni confided that he thought Gamal, who, he claimed, was smarter and more personable than his father, would make an excellent president.

Among the Egyptians I met, Gamal Nasser is blamed for many of today�s problems. One even called Nasser a �communist.�

For example, Nasser instituted a housing policy that gave tenants life rights to their apartments and froze their rental payments. As a consequence, landlords lacked the money to maintain their buildings, so they fell into disrepair, and there was a reluctance to build new housing for Egypt�s burgeoning population. Though Mubarak has reversed that policy, pre-Mubarak tenants still have life rights at the frozen rental payments. That leaves a building owner with the option of either buying them out or selling the building to a developer with the provision when it�s demolished for the construction of a new apartment building that the life rights tenants will be given an apartment.

Yet, there seem to be no people sleeping in the streets of Cairo or Alexandria.

Success in Egypt, I was told, requires two things: money and wasta (connections).

The wasta part requires no money. It�s an �I�ll do something for you in return for you doing something for me in the future.�

While the US government bribes (a.k.a. foreign aid) and coerces foreign governments into do its bidding, it hypocritically frowns upon and even has made it illegal for American businesses to grease the skids with money (bakeesh) to close a deal in a foreign country. But bakeesh is a way of life in Egypt, as it is in many other parts of the world. It�s remarkable what pressing a few Egyptian pounds into the hand of a bureaucrat, a business holdout or an underpaid worker can accomplish.

Much legitimate business seems to be conducted at night and there is a ritual to it. First, you have some refreshments -- non-alcoholic if your host is a devout Muslim -- then some discussion takes place, usually of a social nature, then you eat -- and I am talking about enormous spreads of food -- and, finally, business is discussed.

Craftsmen still abound in Egypt. In an old section of Alexandria, there are shops where men make exquisitely carved furniture and magnificent chandeliers.

Despite the abundance of consumer products available to those who can afford them, Egypt has not yet joined the �throwaway society� of the West. The call of rag and bone men is heard daily in Alexandria. Repairmen will even come to your home to fix anything that is broken.

Physicians still make house calls for about 170 Egyptian pounds ($30US). A lawyer will travel from Alexandria to Cairo and spend the day with you for about $60US, plus train fare, meals and a hotel room. Need a plumber, an electrician, painters without waiting days or weeks for them to show up? No problem.

While even these prices are out of the reach of poor Egyptians who less than $30US a month each, the more affluent and wealthy Egyptians live well. There are maids who will come in five days a week for about $60US a month, plus carfare and lunch. A driver costs under $600 US a month.

Middle class Egyptians earn between $600US and $1,800US a month. Some of the poor, supplement their income with tips for running errand.

Poor Egyptians, I was told, receive government food subsidies. The government also runs free hospitals for the poor, but the quality of care is low. The Muslim Brotherhood has built grassroots support through its social programs.

Overall, Egypt is a fascinating country. Yes, it has problems but so does every other country.

Part 1: Getting there

Part 2: Cairo and Alexandria

Final part: The return to the US was the trip from hell

Egypt Photo Gallery

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