CAIRO - The big story that is occupying the Egyptian intelligentsia concerns the possibility that the heads of the Islamic organizations will issue an apology for acts of murder in the past. The story has to do with the Egyptian, as opposed to the Palestinian, Islamic terror organizations - those that were responsible, inter alia, for the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the murder of tourists, the killing of the intellectual, Farag Fouda, and the attempt on the life of writer Naguib Mahfouz.
In an interview that was published in the last issue of the Al-Masawar weekly, the heads of these organizations who are imprisoned in Tura Prison said that they had come to the conclusion that killing civilians was a mistake and that armed action should not be taken against the state.
"Here you have a contradiction," says one Egyptian intellectual. "After years during which the regime pursued the Islamic terror organizations here, among other things in order to preserve the lives of our intellectuals, the Egyptian intellectuals are continuing to describe the Palestinian Islamic terror organizations as fedayeen organizations, not as murderers or even suicide terrorists, but as organizations that make sacrifices. How can Ibrahim Nafa, the editor of Al-Ahram who sees himself as a liberal, attribute to the killing of civilians such exalted attributes while here, in Egypt, he sees those same organizations as the enemy of the people?"
"Suicide terror does not endanger only Israel," says an Egyptian journalist, "but also Egypt and the Arab states. What will we do if it turns out that they succeed in changing Israel's policy? Today the Egyptian organizations are prepared to express remorse, but if they succeed in Palestine, why wouldn't similar organizations try to imitate them here or in Jordan or in Saudi Arabia?"
The Egyptian fear of Islamic terror is one of the important elements that impels President Hosni Mubarak's active diplomatic policy. "This terror has two serious implications," notes an Egyptian government official. "It stains the reputation of the Arabs and Islam; it does not allow the Arab states to eradicate the terrorist label imprinted on them after September 11; and suddenly it is dictating the diplomatic agenda."
According to the official, there is the sense too that the Arab leaders are no longer able to influence the events in Palestine and that the rules of the game that had been more or less clear up until about six months ago are no longer being set by the politicians, but rather by the gangs. "Since the Beirut summit in March, considered the high point of the Arab diplomatic initiative until today, we have witnessed the need to construct a new Arab policy. The Saudi vision is not enough; the suicide attacks have blown up in its face as well."
At the moment, Mubarak is trying to take advantage of the postponement of U.S. President George W. Bush's Middle East policy speech so as to secure an additional Arab agreement that could advance the political process. Mubarak's unexpected visits to Jordan and Syria, the reports from Syria on cooperation with the United States in the war against al Qaida and the agreements (though no one knows exactly what they are) between Egypt and Saudi Arabia all seem to be aimed at ensuring that the international peace conference will not be just another symposium, but rather a practical forum.
The phone line between Washington and Cairo is very busy, carrying mainly Egyptian attempts to convince the Americans to come up with a formula the Palestinians can grasp. For its part, Washington is interested in more Arab activity; and according to sources in Washington, there has even been talk of the possibility of some kind of Arab steering committee, which, together with the Palestinians, will run matters in the territories. The proposal has been rejected because Arab leaders, and Jordan's King Abdullah in particular, do not want to appear to be exchanging the Israeli occupation for an Arab one.
And meanwhile, there are no exciting new ideas. The Arab impotence was expressed by a Egyptian government official who said: "Maybe we should just let this explosives train blow up on its own. After all, even a train that flies down a slope without brakes eventually stops, although none of us wants that final stop to be the location where he is."
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