Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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EGYPT: Billions of dollars, but little love. . .

January 15, 2008 |  9:29 am

The U.S. gives Egypt nearly $2 billion a year in military and economic aid, but that buys no love for President Bush, who arrives here Wednesday at the end of his Middle East tour. The president is despised, from the slums of Cairo to the Bedouin encampments in the Sinai. His portraits have been set ablaze this week; one demonstrator carried a poster depicting him as an eye patch-wearing pirate: "Kick out Bush the murderer."

Bush, of course, will not glimpse the protesters, whose ranks in this nation of tear gas and ubiquitous security forces will be kept small and mainly regulated to Cairo. Bush is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is having his own image problems these days, with inflation out of control, police torture videos circulating on the Internet and some in the media suggesting he is gravely ill. The get-together in the seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheik, about 375 miles south of the capital, will not be breached by even the most itinerant placard-waver.

Sensing that Bush probably can't read Arabic, the independent Al-Dustor on Tuesday greeted Bush with a front-page headline in English: "Mr. Bush, if you want peace, talk about justice. If you want democracy, talk about fair elections. If you want freedom, talk about rule of law. If you only want to support Israel, go back home."

The Egyptian Bar Assn. is calling Bush a "tyrannical Zionist. . .You are not welcome in sacred Cairo, the symbol of sacrifice for the sake of Islam and Arab nationalism. . . If the Egyptian government has to receive you out of diplomatic obligations, the whole people object to this inauspicious visit, which only sanctifies occupation and perpetuates the suffering of our people in Gaza and the occupied territories in Palestine."

So much for pleasantries.

— Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo