Scattered among the cluttered kiosks of Islamic Cairo’s famous Khan al-Khalili market, red and blue hats picturing the Temple Mount boldly state "al-Quds Lena" – Jerusalem is ours. Along the busy Taalat Harb thoroughfare, sidewalk merchants sell bumper stickers with similar sentiments.
Cairo’s best bookstore sells a book entitled "The Fabrication of the Holocaust." Other outdoor book merchants have copies of Hitler’s "Mein Kamf " front and center on the rack. You might also find "The End and Destruction of America and Israel" if you went looking.
At al-Azhar Mosque, one man tells a friend of mine that "Jews are AIDS" - a disease to the rest of the world. At an Islamic bookstore, a man grabs his neck and tells me, "The Jews have America right here. America doesn’t breathe unless the Jews let her." A heated discussion with an army officer ends with his insistence that "there is no such thing as a peace agreement in the Middle East where Israel still exists."
Inside the air-conditioned classrooms of the American University of Cairo, seemingly worlds away from the harsh realities of the Cairo streets, young American students learn how to read and write Arabic. The only problem is that they read articles drawn from the harsh, and vehemently anti-Israel Egyptian press. The lexicon for the Arab-Israeli conflict - including words for suicide bomb, occupation forces, Islamic resistance and maryrdom - are given far more weight than the lexicons for technology, literature, the environment, or other important world issues. At the end of the summer, I joked to one teacher, "should the conflict ever end, I won’t know any arabic."
On the radio, one song continues to linger, despite its fall from the charts months ago. It’s called "I Hate Israel."
Interestingly, one of this summer’s most salient instances of anti-Israel sentiment was hidden in a movie called "Itfarag Ya Salaam," loosely translated as "Watch Out." At the film’s apex, the main character, Magid, learns that he has inherited $50 million from a wealthy American woman. A simple, poor villager, Magid’s prospects look fortuitous, until he learns that his fortune is attached to the job of managing the rest of the estate for Israel and its army. Magid is crestfallen. After much soul-searching, he "heroically" decides to turn down the inheritance and returns to the simple life of his village, staying true to his principles – a decision lauded by his peers.
The question posed: At what price should Egypt accept America’s aid, if America also aids Israel and her army? The conclusion: Egypt is better off poor and proud, rejecting Israel and the American money that comes along with it.
The aim here is not to blame the failure of Middle East peace on the Egyptian government. Nor is the goal to scold the Egyptian people. The idea is to simply shed some light on reality. Egyptians who recognize Israel’s right to exist are few and very, very far between.
Israel needs peace with Egypt as a component for its security. Egypt needs peace with Israel to maintain good relations with America – in order to build a stronger military and economy. But we must recognize the limitations of the so-called "Cold Peace." Indeed, "Watch Out" is good advice. If Egyptian President Husni Mubarak ever decided to terminate diplomatic relations with Israel – or worse, enter into armed conflict – the Egyptian street would support him all the way.