War wins support in Egypt Losses recalled in Iran-Iraq conflict WAR IN THE GULF

January 17, 1991|By John Arundel | John Arundel,Special to The Sun

CAIRO, Egypt -- A broad spectrum of Egyptians say they are prepared, even eager, to battle their Arab brethren.

In conversations this week, before the outbreak of hostilities yesterday, with Egyptian intellectuals, shopkeepers and students, many said that they were angry enough to fight Iraq more than a year ago, when relations soured between the two Arab powers, but hoped that Israel would stay detached from any fighting.

"We want to kill Saddam," said Samir Faik, a Cairo bartender, athree Egyptian friends nodded in agreement. "If he had the same strengths as the American army, he would destroy the world."

Phillip Anis, manager of a downtown Cairo hotel, felt likewise. "It's a good feeling to help the international forces, because Saddam is an animal," he said. "In the long run, this is good for peace."

Such opinions typify the view of many Egyptians, whose opinions of Iraq changed dramatically after seeing hundreds of Egyptians return in coffins from Iraq after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Iraqi soldiers returning from the conflict reportedly beat and killed as many as 1,000 Egyptians who were holding their former jobs.

"The most noticeable thing about Egypt is that there is no visible support for Saddam Hussein," said Abdella Schleiffer, a professor at the American University in Cairo. "Egyptians are not championing Saddam as a savior of the Arabs."

Indeed, even many radical Egyptians are cursing the Iraqi leader for massacring Islamic activists in Iraq and for attempting to "de-Islamicize" Iraqi society. The Persian Gulf crisis has divided even fringe political groups in Egypt, including the Islamic fundamentalists, Nasserites and Arab nationalists, who under normal circumstances might support a radical Arab leader such as Saddam Hussein.

"These political groups are in a real quandary," Professor Schleiffer added. "They oppose the United States for its support of Israel but see no friend in Saddam Hussein."

But while the groups find it hard to support Mr. Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and his brutal actions in Iraq, there has been growing support in Egypt among these groups for linkage between the Kuwaiti invasion and the Palestinian question.

Radical leaders say they feel the United States is applying double standard in being too slow to enforce the 1967 United Nations resolution forcing Israel from occupied Arab territories, while being too swift in its enforcement of the U.N. resolution ordering Iraq from Kuwait.

"Iraq has succeeded in persuading many Arabs that there ilinkage between these issues," said Walid Kazziha, a Syrian-born Arab nationalist and Arab scholar living in Cairo.

Other Arab intellectuals say that the United States has rushed the Arab world too quickly into a war posture.

Some Egyptians say that while their support for involvement with the force arrayed against Iraq is solid, a war could change their attitudes swiftly.

"If . . . many Arab lives are wasted, many people would not forgive our government for supporting it [a war] in the first place," said Maged Mokhtar, 25, a graduate student. "We will not feel at ease if half a million Arab soldiers die."

The possible involvement of Israel in the conflict is another factor Egyptians say could create instability.

"We hope that Israel will not interfere in the crisis," said Abdel Monheim, deputy director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, repeating a view widely shared by Egyptian political leaders. "If they did, opposition to Egyptian involvement would increase significantly."

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