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Rebuilding Iraq


'Whole world against the Arabs' is prevailing view at Cairo rallies

By Charles Radin, Globe Staff, 3/31/2003

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CAIRO -- In their groups of hundreds and thousands, the surging, chanting protesters who participated in the latest major antiwar demonstration in this largest of Arab cities sounded as though they were boiling with rage.

But in their ones and twos, members of the crowd were remarkable for their soft-spoken civility as they described their reactions to the US-led war more with sadness than with anger.

They are sad, they said, because they believe this is a war on Islam, a conflict in which they must stand with Iraq lest Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt be next. Sad, too, because they are convinced the conflict is not about Saddam Hussein but the clash of civilizations -- the one of which they are part, and the one they used to admire.

"The Western media are trying to say it is an American-British action, but actually it is the whole world against the Arabs," said Sallam Abdou, 43, a professor of communications at Ain Chams University. "Bush said it was a crusade," and despite subsequent US attempts to downplay the president's remark, Abdou said, "that is what he meant, and that is what it is."

Salah Hamdi, 33, an engineer from Heliopolis, agreed it is a matter of the Muslims against the West: "Some of the Western countries that are against the war are not for the Muslims, they are against it for their own interests."

Others who were listening agreed: The French have commercial ambitions in the Arab world, they said; the Russians do not want the United States to grow even more militarily dominant.

"We looked at America as a good country who brought all good things in science, in medicine, who go to the moon," said Ahmad Mustafa, 34, a teacher. "We want please to return to this bright picture about America."

As the demonstration ended, the protesters were all but pushed from the streets by people anxious to return to their daily routines. "What are you shouting?" said a peasant woman who was trying to plow through the crowd to a nearby market. "Go find some work!"

"Go home! Go home!" demanded a policeman. "You've said everything there is to say. You shout `Down with the USA.' Do you believe it will fall because you say so?"

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 3/31/2003.
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