Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 23, 1972 · Page 123
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 123

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 23, 1972
Page 123
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Page 123 article text (OCR)

CONTINUED non-costly war, most Egyptians want no part of it. "Sadat is nothing but a bluff," argues one veteran Cairo businessman. "Last year he said it was 'the year of decision/and what happened? Nothing. Now he says we are prepared to struggle on forever. But frankly, Egypt cannot wait. If we are unable to beat Israel, then let's finally admit it to ourselves and stop wasting our money on war, and start cleaning up the mess in our own backyard." Ghost towns Part of Egypt's "mess" is the rubble and destruction left over from the war. Along the Suez Canal, for example, there were once several large cities; today as a result of the "War of Attrition" they are little more than ghost towns, and their million or so inhabitants are scattered in refugee camps throughout Egypt. Also, the Suez Canal itself, which at one time was the source of some $250 million annual income, now sits lifeless, gradually filling with silt (though engineers estimate that within three to six months it might be made functional again). As if these were not enough problems to cost Egypt's leaders sleepless nights, there are also the multiple difficulties that plague any developing country. Egypt is poor (annual per capita income is $175), the people are uneducated (75 percent illiteracy), and the population is growing by leaps and bounds (800,000 per year). At one time, it was hoped that the Aswan Dam --completed in early 1971, and largely financed by Soviet loans--would be, as Nasser said, "a permanent source of prosperity." But, for the moment, it is estimated that the Dam is generating just about enough income to feed the 800,000 new mouths each year--or, in other words, just enough to keep conditions in Egypt from getting worse. The dilemma All of mis, quite obviously, does rtpt add up to an optimistic'picture of today's Egypt. And not surprisingly, Egypt's leaders are hesitant to allow an open discussion of the country's problems. (For the difficulties this reporter had in covering the story, see "The Story Behind the Story" on this page.) But more and more, people are beginning to grumble and demand solutions. They want an end to their frustrations. It remains to be seen whether the Egyptian leadership will try to offer up as they have in the past, the solution of victory over Israel; or whether they will decide that the only way out of the morass is to sit down, pick up the pen, and finally sign the bitter peace. Q Sandbag-protected Egypt/an soldier stands lonely armed vigil at Port Taufik outpost, situated on southern mouth of the Suez Canal. Brick wall in front of Cairo store. Such walls have been up for some time and people use them instead of shelters. The Story Behind the Story F rom the beginning I could see there would be difficulties in reporting the story from Cairo. Friends in Lebanon--the one country in the Arab world where people can speak openly --had warned me that Egypt today was a sad, frustrated place; and while there was more freedom to discuss ideas now than in Nasser's time, it was still a "police state," and people would be reluctant to talk to me--particularly because I was a journalist, and an American journalist at that. It didn't take much time in Cairo to find out exactly how right they were. Egyptian officials seemed especially closed-mouthed (one of them, in fact, Tashin Bashir of the Foreign Ministry whom I met on the first day--was placed under house arrest some days later, allegedly for some anti-Soviet comments he had made a few weeks earlier, and which were reported in Al Ahram). And even American diplomats--normally a good source for off-the-record information--were reluctant to talk. The American "interest section" (our sole diplomatic tie with Egypt, since normal relations were broken in June, 1967), had just been cut back by President SadaJ from 20 people to 10. And there was a deep concern that if one false step were made--such as a wrong remark to a journalist--Sadat might decide, in anger, to ask even these last 10 to leave. Besides these difficulties in talking to people, there was the problem of photographing. It is standard Egyptian policy not to allow journalists to photo- graph anything or anywhere, without the accompaniment of a "guide." Moreover, bridges, soldiers in uniform, sandbag emplacements, crowded buses and poor people cannot be photographed at all, except by special permission. And depending upon the guide's discretion, certain buildings and living areas were also off limits. I, for instance, was given permission to photograph a fashionable section in Cairo called El Zamalik; but when my guide and his superiors realized that what I was photographing were street scenes of the Russians--a thousand or so live there--they quickly told me to stop. Sensitive about Soviets The Egyptians, as it turns out, are very sensitive about the Soviet presence. To some extent I was aware of this before I arrived in Egypt, but it wasn't until I was there--and quite frankly made a foolish mistake--that I found out just how touchy the Soviet issue is. I was carrying in my briefcase an article which I had received in Beirut; it was a reprint of a petition from some Egyptian army officials directed to members of the Egyptian government, advising that the Soviet presence in Egypt had grown too fast, and that President Sadat had proved incapable of running the government by himself. Somehow, journalists in Beirut had got hold of this petition, and since Lebanon is a free society, they reprinted it. Egyptian newspapers, however, had not published the petition, and thus only members of the government had seen it. My mistake was that I forgot to keep the article with me at all times. On my fifth day in Cairo, I left it in my suitcase and that evening when I returned to my room in the Nile Hilton, it was missing. Immediately I consulted some American friends and they seemed quite worried about what had happened. They took me to see some Egyptian contacts of theirs, and it was then that I found out what was going on. "My friend," said one of the Egyptians, "you have just stepped into a political minefield. There is a very big battle going on in this country between President Sadat, who says we need the Russians just as they are, and some of the army people, including War Minister Sadek, who thinks the Russians have gained too much power in our country. Now, my friend, look what you have done. You have been asking about the Soviet presence, you have been taking photographs of the Russians, and now they find this anti-Soviet petition in your suitcase. I will be blunt with you: you may be in trouble. Two European journalists were arrested earlier this year, on not much more evidence than what they already have on you. But, try not to worry. It may be that, foe the moment, the security people don't want any more trouble with the Americans. Personally, I don't think they do. But you will see. I hope I am right." Luckily, he was. For, two days and two thousand worries later, when I finally left Cairo, I still had my film, I still had my notes, and nobody had come to question me. -- G- M.

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