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Support Lacking in Egypt for Possible Attack on Iraq - 2003-01-10

Foreigners in Egypt are expressing concern about the prospect of war in Iraq. They say, unlike the 1991 Gulf War, there is no official or public support in Egypt for U.S.-led military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and they are concerned about the repercussions of such an attack.

Long-time Cairo resident Karin Egli says the atmosphere is different this time around in the Arab world's biggest capital. Ms. Egli, a Swiss office manager, also lived in Cairo during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led military campaign that liberated Kuwait the following year.

"There certainly is a difference because at the time, people felt the war was justified because Iraq invaded Kuwait and of course also the media was for the war because the government was part of the coalition going to war. And today, people feel a war is not justified," she said.

Egypt, Syria, and many Gulf Arab countries joined the U.S.-led military coalition in 1991. This time, Egypt says it wants no part of any attack on Iraq, although it has permitted the entry of U.S. warships through the Suez Canal.

Ms. Egli points out the Swiss embassy has recently sent out emergency instructions, telling Swiss citizens in Egypt to keep extra provisions on hand, including water and cash, in case evacuation becomes necessary.

"There is definitely a concern that it could become unpleasant," she said. "All fear a bit what is coming. It's not only the war itself. It will have terrific consequences on everyday life, like the economy and jobs."

Last month, Egypt's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Fayza Aboul Naga, said war in Iraq would cost Egypt between $6 billion and $8 billion in lost revenue from tourism, exports and other sources. But the private Union of Chambers of Commerce says that figure could be higher than $10 billion.

Analysts say the biggest losers from a war would be Egypt's top income earners - the tourism and travel industries.

Egypt's Hotel Council says some foreign tour operators have already revised their plans to avoid the Middle East during the next several months, which are considered high season.

Still, many Red Sea tourist spots were full during the Christmas and New Year holidays. And there are still some visitors in Cairo. Spanish tourist Maria de los Angeles says she opted to visit Egypt's rich antiquities in spite of worries of possible war looming in Iraq.

"Tourism is their major income, so they have to protect the tourists because that is where all their money comes from for them. So we feel secure," she said. "Everywhere you go there is police for tourists. But in Spain, people are concerned about coming here or other Arab countries or Jerusalem because of problems that war is coming."

John Crocker, 22, studies Arabic at the American University in Cairo. The American graduate student says he has not faced any open hostility from Egyptians because of the U.S. government's policies toward Iraq, but he does feel nervous about the possibility of war.

"Even in 1967, 1973 they did not evacuate Americans from the American University," he pointed out. "But I am definitely nervous because even if there are not physical attacks or open hostility the mood will change in the country. There will be a great degree of tension, maybe like more stares or more of a cold shoulder, so I am definitely not looking forward to the prospect of a war in Iraq."

The deputy director of Cairo's Al-Ahram Strategic Center, Taha Abdel Alim, says Egyptians are angered that the Bush administration has made Iraq its number one foreign policy priority to the detriment of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He says solving that problem would go a long way toward ending extremism in the Arab world.

"If we are talking about economic development, political stability, our efforts to avoid a clash between civilizations, cultures - West and East - between Muslims and non-Muslims, and if we are going to face these challenges of looking for peace in the Middle East, I think this war will push in the opposite direction," he said.

Mr. Alim says he believes there will not be any attacks on Americans or Westerners in Egypt, but he says any military strike against Iraq will badly hurt U.S. relations with Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.