CAIRO – Like many of the protesters at Tahrir Square this week, 26-year-old Muhammad Salama of Cairo spoke of an eagerness for Egypt to shelve its 1979 peace agreement with Israel, but insisted he does not want war with the Jewish state.
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In his hands he held a sign reading in Arabic, “Netanyahu is worried about Mubarak,” which he said he wrote because “this is my country and my leader. I don’t want him to care about Israel, only about my country.”
Salama spoke after President Hosni Mubarak gave a nationwide speech on Tuesday night vowing to hold new elections in which he would not run. Like all of those spoken to by The Jerusalem Post
after the speech, Salama said he didn’t feel the speech represented a victory for the movement, only a new ploy by Mubarak to stall and stay in power.
Salama and others who spoke with the Post
vowed that they would stay in the square until Mubarak leaves and that the revolution is far from over.
Salama’s friend Hazan Ahmed, 29, said the years of peace with Israel were tinged with the sting of humiliation, and that Egyptians still feel their country is not completely free of the Israeli occupation of Sinai that ended under Camp David.
“The Egyptian army can’t enter Sinai, we feel that it is still Israel. There are Israeli people there all the time, but when we go, we have to stop at checkpoints and we get turned back. We don’t feel that Sinai is Egyptian.”
Ahmed said he didn’t want the treaty with Israel completely dismantled, but for it to undergo a serious change.
“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement,” he said.
When asked about the fact that Israel and Egypt have not gone to war since the agreement was signed, Ahmed, an unemployed medical school graduate, said, “Yes, we have peace, but we have no dignity.”
Cairene Muhammad Gadi, a 33-year-old sales manager, walked around Tahrir Square on Tuesday holding a placard of Mubarak with a Star of David drawn on his forehead. He said he made it because “we don’t want to take our orders from Israel anymore. We will keep the peace, but we won’t let Israel or any other country tell us what to do anymore. We don’t need to take orders from the world.”
Abdel Aziz, 27, from Mubarak’s hometown of Kafr El-Meselha, also held a sign. It said, “Bollocks to you, Mubarak, it’s all over.”
When asked about Israel, Aziz said “this is not about Israel, this is about our country first, we don’t care about other countries.
This is not why we are doing this.”
Ahmad Ragab, 42, spoke more vehemently toward Israel. “Look, all Egyptian people hate Israel, only Sadat wanted Camp David. We know that Israel will be mad about what is happening here, and we know that Netanyahu can’t sleep now.
We know that with the change here, there won’t be peace with Israel. There won’t be a war, but I don’t think there will be an Israeli embassy in Egypt any more, we will have only the most minimal relations.”
Ragab, who studied Chinese and works in Egypt-China business relations, said, “We know the revolution will change this and that’s that, we see every day what Israel is doing with the Palestinians.”
At the same time, like all others asked by the Post
after Mubarak’s speech about the revolution’s meaning for Israel-Egypt relations, Ragab said the issue was not at all at the heart of the upheaval that began on January 25.
“People in Egypt have no work, no future, 90 percent of Egyptian people see they have no future. They are tired,” he said.
Salama made a similar remark. “I work 20 hours a day in security for 300 Egyptian pounds [about $55] a month, I feel terrible doing this. I studied law, I am a poet and a writer, too, but I have no options and I can’t get married. I have a good education, I deserve a good chance to prove I can be somebody,” he said.
As much as resentment toward Israel or the US, or at the violence by Mubarak’s security services and the state police are mentioned by the protesters, their movement appears to be much more driven by exhaustion at a future that promises nothing to a largely destitute citizenry that doesn’t feel they have the ability to support themselves or their families. Among the young people especially, the issue of not having a future in the country where they grew up stokes their fury, and drives them to seek the answers in democracy.
When asked how democracy will bring prosperity to a country where nearly half the populace lives on less than $2 a day, most protesters seemed at a loss for a definitive answer, but all expressed absolute certainty that the removal of Mubarak and his kleptocratic regime will surely bring them a greater chance at prosperity.
For Ahmed Khater, a 26-year-old Cairene sitting in the square with the words “Mubarak get the hell out” written on his forehead, the promise of a better future has never been clearer.
“I have a bachelor’s degree and I get paid 500 pounds [about $90] a month to be a computer technician. I can’t get married, I have no future. Mubarak’s people they just steal our money, they keep everything for themselves and they forget that we are the owners of the country,” Khater said.
“We were sleeping until now, but we are awake.”