Gaza conflict feeds unrest in Cairo streets
Inside Al-Azhar Mosque, a 1,000-year-old center of religious learning, the preacher was railing Friday against Jews. Outside were rows of...
The New York Times
Cease-fire resolution snubbed:
Israel and Hamas on Friday ignored a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. Hamas said it would not heed a resolution about which it was not consulted. Israel dismissed it as ineffective and impractical.
Possible war crimes:
The top U.N. human-rights official called for an independent investigation of possible war crimes in an incident in which Palestinians said Israeli forces shelled a house in Gaza, killing 30 people. Israel's military said it would not have deliberately targeted the building.
Source: Seattle Times news services
CAIRO, Egypt — Inside Al-Azhar Mosque, a 1,000-year-old center of religious learning, the preacher was railing Friday against Jews. Outside were rows of riot-police officers backed by water cannons and dozens of plainclothes officers, there to prevent worshippers from charging into the street to protest the war in Gaza.
"Muslim brothers," said the government-appointed preacher, Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef, "God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at and whom he cursed ... They killed prophets and messengers and sowed corruption on Earth. They are the most evil on Earth."
As the war in Gaza burned through its 14th day, Arab governments have felt their legitimacy challenged with an uncommon virulence.
Nowhere in the Arab world is the gap between the street and the government so wide as in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and has refused to allow free passage of goods and people through its border with Gaza, a decision that has been attacked by Islamic and Arab leaders and proved deeply troubling to many Egyptians.
And so the government of President Hosni Mubarak appeared to fall back on its standard formula for preserving authority at Friday prayers, relying on its security forces to keep calm on the street and government religious institutions such as Al-Azhar to try to appease public sentiment, in this case by lashing out at the Jews in response to Gaza.
"The pressure is mounting on Egypt," said Abdel Raouf el-Reedy, a former Egyptian ambassador to the United States. "How come you keep the Israeli ambassador here? How come you keep the Egyptian ambassador in Israel? ... Public opinion is more clearly on the side of Hamas."
The mood on the streets of Cairo feels somber, dark, dejected. There is heavy security. Armed riot police are massed outside of professional organizations, such as the Doctors' Syndicate, that are often run by members aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, the officially outlawed but tolerated Islamic movement. Massive troop carriers clog small side streets of the city.
In interviews over three days, Egyptians said the only ones they could trust were the Islamists, not their government.
"The Muslim Brotherhood's work gives them credibility," said Heba Omar, 27, who collected about $4,000 from neighbors to donate to a charity controlled by Brotherhood members.
On Thursday, Muhammad Atef Atef, Hazem Khaled and Ramy Morsy, all 19 and studying to be electricians, said they were looking for a chance to help the Palestinians. "The Islamists are very close to us," Atef said.
"They are people we can trust," Khaled said.
"We trust Islamist organizations," Morsy said.
Talk like this has helped press Egypt to change its approach to Gaza, if not its policies. When the war began, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit lashed out at Hamas, blaming it for inciting the violence by ignoring Israel's warnings to stop its rocket fire. Public outrage, however, quickly prompted the government to promote a cease-fire, but that failed.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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