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Cairo: Impact of War - While Cairenes are Subdued, Life Goes on

This article was written by Natasha Behbahany, a International Development Studies major at UCLA who lived in Cairo, Egypt and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown.

This morning I woke up and the US had effectively begun its unilateral movements against Iraq. Frazzled nerves are to be expected at a time like this, but being away from American media for so long, I have realized the over-dramatic qualities it posseses.

The BBC is guilty of this as well. For anyone who read the BBC article written by Martin Asser regarding the "uneasy" situation in Cairo, please rest assured that the author was guilty of creating unecessary worry.

Asser was at the Edward Said lecture which I attended a few days ago at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and perhaps he mistakened the deafening applause for Said's Palestinian cause as something to be afraid of. Further, Asser noted the presence of police guards everywhere. The police have been there since the day I arrived in Egypt - and for many years before - the country is, afterall, under emergency law.

While I feel Asser exaggerated the tensions here in Cairo, there have been demonstrations in the days leading up to the commencement of the attack on Iraq. Today's demonstration was the largest and was not even organized by university students but by locals. It took me an hour to get to campus when it usually takes 10 minutes. I walked around the demonstrators who were surrounded by lines of military and riot police. Technically, under currenct emergency law, these demonstrations are banned unless they have government permission, but there were perhaps a few hundred Egyptian men (no women) creating havoc on Cairo traffic.

Amidst the demonstrators' yells of God is Great, God is Great, I noticed tour buses carrying loads of vacationers. This is good news for the Egyptian economy, which would be handicapped by a drop in tourism. It also indicates a desire to continue with business as usual.

Although the demonstrators were a minority, it is possible that the fervor will pick up as the attack intensifies. However, I noticed a great sense of apathy amongst the majority of on-lookers. In private, however, everyone has an opinion.

My talkative taxi driver expressed dislike for Saddam Hussein, but pity for the Iraqi people. Perhaps it is a symptom of enduring patrimonial politics in the Middle East, but in public, I did not feel an obvious sense of Arab unity from the majority.

So, that has been my experience in Cairo on the first day of attacks. Most Egyptians are continuing on with their lives, driving around demonstrators and enduring the choking traffic. At the same time, everyone is glued to the radio. As for myself, I am doing the same, but I am also keeping an eye on the sentiment here.

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