plenty of issues still gnawing at Egyptians' hearts and minds one year
after the fact
9-11, 1 year
Looking for directions
It's nearly impossible to extricate Egyptians' sentiments about 11
September from their feelings about the US in general; about how their
Arab and Muslim brothers are being treated there and worldwide; about
the war on Iraq, and about what's going on in Palestine. And, in a
vastly under-spoken but clearly visible way, about what's going on in
this country -- as a result of, and in light of, the events of 11
Take Umm Ghada, a cleaning
lady in her late 30s, who claims to have never really heard of 11
September. When pressed, however, she says she knows it has something to
do with Palestine. "I avoid newspapers and TV", she says,
"and politics". Even so, she laments the fact that her son, a
student of tourism, has had a rough year trying to procure the same sort
of training work he has done in the past at Cairo's five-star hotels.
"They've hardly had anything for him since then," she says,
shaking her head, "But it's picked up in the past few months or
That boost to tourism -- by Arab
tourists who flocked to Cairo this summer in unprecedented numbers --
also has to do with 11 September, although Umm Ghada might not be
aware of the connection. Desperate not to expose themselves to any form
of humiliation or danger in the US or Europe, Arabs have chosen to spend
their vacations nearby -- here, for instance -- instead.
"God helps improve
matters," says Umm Ghada, "He always does". One
thing that needs improvement, in her opinion, is the relationship
between Egypt and the US. America has always been a great provider of
opportunities, she says, "giving us food, lots of good
things". It's a shame, then, that something has come between the
friends: namely, the Israelis, who she says "kill the guilty and
the innocent". And although her condemnation of attacks on
innocents is heartfelt, Umm Ghada has her own opinions on what it
might mean for a young girl to strap on explosives and blow herself up.
"The attackers," she says, and here she's referring to the
ones who hit the towers, "surely had no other option. They had
reached the breaking point and there was no other way out."
Khaled, an accountant, says,
"I won't lie. I was surprised and happy. Because it showed them
that they weren't the only ones who could hit people with impunity, or
help the Israelis hit people."
A year later, after waiting in
vain for what he says was a sign that the US was learning its lesson,
Khaled says all that he's seen, when it comes to America's treatment of
others, is a nation getting even more arrogant and cruel. Khaled says he
wants "something bigger to happen. But I know nothing bigger or
even smaller will ever happen".
Having said that, Khaled insists
he's against terrorism and that he never thought Bin Laden was a hero.
"Although I was happy about it, I also felt very sorry for the
But with or without 11 September,
he says the world was heading for a disastrous clash between the Arabs
and the West; 9/11 just sped things up. Arabs still haven't learned that
the US is not their friend, says Khaled. "This was obvious before
11 September in Bush's total disregard for the carnage against
Palestinians going on in the occupied territories."
According to Wael, a logistics
specialist at a multinational company in Cairo, "the war declared
against Afghanistan within 48 hours was like an Arabic film. It was
fake." Wael says he thought the US was going to conduct a quick
revenge operation, but "as time went by, it became clear that there
was a sort of colonization going on, that it was to be a series of
events that are only now starting to make sense, and that don't look too
good for the Arab world."
It has been nearly a year since
the sheikh who leads the Friday prayers at the Sayeda Aisha Mosque in an
upscale part of Heliopolis, gave sermons comparing the attacks to
religious parables of nations that had reached a point where they
thought they were above the law. "The attacks were a message from
God to the United States," says Sheikh Attia Gomaa today. "We
don't like to see innocent people die, but at the same time, the
Americans had gone too far in their support for the Zionists and those
oppressing Muslims and Arabs everywhere in the world."
In Attia's view, the battle that
began that day would be a hard one to win. "They're fighting
against us but we're not even up to it because we're not able to live in
a true Muslim society. We don't know our religion. Women are walking
around in revealing clothes. People are living for this world rather
than the hereafter. Relationships are more about business deals than
about being brothers in religion."
The event's fallout gave the
impression that a war was being fought against Islam itself. Why else
would Egyptians like Taher, a 65-year-old retired senior reinsurance
executive who has traveled the globe, be so quick to say, "The Jews
are the ones who did it because they wanted to make Christians and
Muslims worldwide hate each other?" Probably as a reaction to how
quickly America and the world were to blame Arabs and Muslims for the
And indeed, although Taher's
comment sounds like a typical self-defense mechanism, many
interpretations of the event have given the impression that a wedge has
been driven between Muslims and the rest of the world. And, it seems,
between Muslims and each other as well. One young man says the most
surreal moment he's seen since 11 September was on a TV talk show that
featured an American Muslim leader and an Islamic figure from Egypt. The
Egyptian was insisting that Muslims in the US were being persecuted.
"No we're not," the US
Muslim was saying.
"Yes, you are," the
Middle Easterner said back, and their conversation soon degenerated into
The battle to define Islam is
perhaps the biggest thing being played out everywhere you look.
Witness the words of Laila, a
devout 60-year-old Muslim housewife, who supports the "war on
terror". She says "it's obvious that Muslims in Afghanistan
wanted to get a taste of modernity. The evidence was in the photos and
reports that showed them going to the movies, shaving their beards,
listening to music and getting educated."
Of the 11 September attacks, she
says, "Whoever did this is not Muslim. These people with beards who
want us to live in caves -- they don't understand the religion. It tells
you to modernize. Modernity is good. They are backwards. That's why Al-Qa'eda
could never have done this -- it required tremendous planning. They
might be able to rob, or slap me in the face, but they could never do
something like this. This needs something as strong as the US."
Her conspiracy theory continues:
"Everything after it [9/11] was meant to put Muslims down. Like
those Bin Laden tapes. They were meant to defeat the Muslim world by
showing us that these people who supposedly represent us have no
Hers is a popular opinion which,
by its very nature, turns any battle for hearts and minds on its very
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