Nasrallah RisesI apologize for the long break. I hope it will be my last for several months. I spent the last two weeks on vacation in Budapest and Vienna, and decided that I should not comment on Egyptian politics from afar.
Not It Girl posted a note on my previous entry that read, “Cairo is a state of mind.” I think she’s right. I was certainly back in Cairo before I was, literally, back in Cairo. My spiritual arrival occurred on the pleasantly cool tarmac of Italy’s Aeroporti di Roma. Through the magic of Expedia, I was able to fly from Egypt on Budapest and back for only 400 dollars, but because there are no direct flights between the capitals, I was forced to transfer planes in Rome. As one can imagine, there isn’t much of an ‘Arab feel’ to a Budapest-Rome flight. The Rome-Cairo flight is, of course, another story. It was on the bus from Terminal C to Alitalia’s Airbus A320 that, mentally, I arrived back in Egypt. The bus was filled with Arabs, gesturing, talking loudly and excitedly in a way that is foreign to your average American or European traveler. And it was at this moment, as the Bus’s engine revved, that the two Egyptians to my right began discussing Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.
I came in on the conversation as the two were discussing the problem of American Jews. The younger one, with a full head of hair and a well-kept suit, informed his older, balder, more disheveled friend that he had worked for some time in the ritzy resort towns of the Sinai, where many Israelis go for vacation. The problem with the Jews, he said, is that all of them have two passports, one American and one Israeli. The two men quickly agreed that there was no difference between an American Jew and an Israeli Jew.
The topic then changed to the war in Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah, the older one said, was changing the world. America and the Jews were on the run, and perhaps the Jews would finally be pushed into the sea. Certainly, they agreed, there would be no real peace, until that happened.
During hostage crises, psychologists have noticed that many prisoners become attached to and identify with their captors, a phenomenon now known as Stockholm Syndrome. This condition is the only explanation for my initial response to such blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric. “Ahh,” I thought, “I’m back in Egypt!” The constant trashing of Israel and America that I had grown so tired of by late July was suddenly putting an ironic smile on my face. Here we go again, I thought eagerly.
The two Egyptians I stood next to are hardly alone in their hopes that Nasrallah is here to save the day. Once, that figure was Saddam Hussein, taunting the West in 1991 and refusing to give in, even under harsh sanctions. Today though, it is unquestionable that Saddam ultimately lost to America and Israel. Nasrallah has now taken his place as the stoic Arab, fighting for the Arab cause. Two weeks ago, a weekly independent magazine here included a free copy of a Nasrallah poster with every copy. Egyptians everywhere are having their spirits buoyed by the hope that Hezbollah’s ‘victory’ will be less superficial than Saddam’s was.
In a poll conducted by the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, it was found that Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s baby-faced, soft-spoken, straight-talking leader was considered more “important” than any other leader in the Middle East. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came in second. The first head of an Arab state to appear on the poll was Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, coming in 11th. The chairman of the center, Saad Edin Ibrahim, wrote about the poll in the Washington Post:
The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic. And among the few secular public figures who made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti (31 percent) and Egypt's Ayman Nour (29 percent), both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively. None of the current heads of Arab states made the list of the 10 most popular public figures. While subject to future fluctuations, these Egyptian findings suggest the direction in which the region is moving. The Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept. They are, at best, ambivalent about the fanatical Islamists of the bin Laden variety. More mainstream Islamists with broad support, developed civic dispositions and services to provide are the most likely actors in building a new Middle East. In fact, they are already doing so through the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, the similarly named PJD in Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and, yes, Hezbollah in Lebanon."
My next entry will be on my thoughts on the Muslim Brotherhood