But what do they think of Israel?

'Egypt has peace with Israel, but inside it has bad feelings. No Egyptian likes Israel.'

egypt nargila 298 (photo credit: Orly Halpern)
egypt nargila 298
(photo credit: Orly Halpern)
While the lives of the upper and lower classes could not be more different they unite over their views of Israel. "Egypt has peace with Israel, but inside it has bad feelings. No Egyptian likes Israel," said Ashraf, a 26-year-old from a poor family in Cairo.

For Carol, a 23-year-old from a wealthy Armenian-Egyptian family, the Jews - which to her is equivalent to Israel - are "a very sensitive subject."

"You know Sadat was killed because he made peace," she said. "If you talk about [Israel] people might think you're a spy."

Her friend Ahmed is a rare bird. The affluent young man has no problem with Israelis. "I go to Sinai a lot," he said. "I have many Israeli friends. I don't like the Israeli government but I love the Israeli people."

For many Egyptians - like other Arabs around the region - the relationship between Israel and America is perceived as a united opposition to the Arab world.

"Egyptians see America as Israel's 'mother‚'" said Carol, "and she keeps Israel in the Middle East in order to prevent the Arabs from uniting." It's not unusual for Egyptians to attack the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut outlets, breaking the windows, she said, "if Israel does something bad."

According to Ashraf, "half the Americans are Jews." Ashraf can't forget the Six Day War, which he said the Egyptian media ingrain upon Egyptians' minds. "It was a catastrophe," he said. "We always see TV shows about how Israel hit Sinai and killed children. We see what they do in Palestine. Why can't there be two countries side by side? Israel and Palestine? But [the Israelis] want everything. And who helps them? America."

Ashraf said he supports Palestinian suicide bombings of Israelis, but at the same time, he said he opposes the killing of civilians. "Of course the Palestinians should be suicide bombers but only against soldiers," he said, "not against children and women. I would pick up an Israeli baby from the ground because Islam is merciful."

Salah Ali, 31, the wiry goateed manager of a Cairo cellular phone accessories store, believes that suicide bombings of buses are to be expected. "When someone kills someone from your family, what do you do?" he asked. "If there is no [justice] system then you do the same to him." He added that he thinks it's "wrong to kill children on buses."

Yet as he finds excuses for bombings of civilian vehicles, Ali, like many Arabs, fails to perceive any Israeli military actions as defensive. "Nobody knows what the Israelis want," he said. "Something is wrong with their system. Maybe they need new software. They make problems with everybody: Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine. They love war."

Hatred toward Israel in Egypt and the Arab world is commonly directed at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who among Arabs is nicknamed "The Butcher" because of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. The popular belief now is that peace depends on Sharon, but that Sharon is not interested.

"Sharon kills a lot of innocent people," said Carol's friend Faramawy. "He shouldn't. He should live in peace. Things will change but only when the Israelis stop killing people." Said Ali: "If Sharon doesn't make problems he gets bored... Who brought the Israelis here anyway? The British. They did it."

Many young Egyptians sincerely fear Israel. Like numerous other Arabs who believe conspiracy theories about Israeli intentions to expand its borders, Egyptian youth are no different. Faramawy believes that Israel wants to conquer Egypt.

"I know that in your holy book it says that you have to rule between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the Euphrates," he said. "One day you will come after us."

Showing an unusual understanding of both sides, Ahmed said that Israelis fear that Egypt will attack one day and Egyptians fear that Israelis will attack one day.

"Most Egyptian people are ignorant," he continued. "They believe in symbols. They believe that Israel is the enemy."

Surprisingly, despite their disdain for Israel, young Egyptians are thankful for the peace deal former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made with Israel. "He was so smart to do that," said Ashraf. "We in Egypt love peace."

Ali thanked God that Egypt has peace with Israel. "No problems anymore. We got Sinai back," he said kissing his fingers. "People just want to live."