Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Egypt Feels Pull of Fundamentalism Country's Uneasy Drift into Social Change Is Both Peaceful and Violent

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Egypt Feels Pull of Fundamentalism Country's Uneasy Drift into Social Change Is Both Peaceful and Violent

Article excerpt

THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION wears two faces in Egypt now.

Schoolgirls walk the Nile River canal banks, their eyes shadowed under head scarves or what they call "the veil." Alongside, young men cruise the Corniche highway in shark-shaped armored assault vehicles of the Egyptian state security apparatus, their eyes looking down oiled barrels of machine guns.

The one face of revolution is as quiet as the scarf - patient, tolerated by officials and even encouraged. The other is volatile as cordite - violent and violently resisted.

On the force of these two crosscurrents, Egypt is drifting uneasily toward Muslim conservatism.

President Hosni Mubarak, one of the United States' strongest allies in the Arab world, is criticized at home and abroad for his heavy-handedness.

Not always in the headlines but maybe of greater consequence, the pressures of Islamists, peaceful and otherwise, surely have narrowed the government's options and reduced its daring as it tries to reform a stagnant economy and forestall even greater social discontent. Many Egyptians are troubled.

Mohsen Awad, assistant secretary general of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, admits, "I'm frightened. . . .

"We have a social breakdown to the extent that some apartments in Cairo now cost $15 million each, while one-quarter of the population lives in shanties in cemeteries and one-quarter of the buildings are falling apart."

Tourism is a time-honored barometer of conditions in Egypt. This year, the signs are good.

Cairo and many ancient pharaonic sites around Luxor and Aswan are crowded with sightseers, many of whom were scared off the previous two years. To them, Egypt's revolution is just calm enough this winter and the government's crackdown on violent extremists is convincing - so far.

But there are few tourists on the middle Nile at Mallawi, 190 miles south of Cairo. This is Upper Egypt, the isolated center of the violent face of fundamental Islam.

Four times in the last few weeks, extremists of Upper Egypt have shot at passing trains, trying to put their cause back into the headlines. These were the first such attacks in almost a year. Several travelers, including at least two foreign tourists who ignored warnings, were wounded. But the attacks were amateurish.

But, judging from elsewhere in the Arab world, few problems can be isolated forever, no matter how many roadblocks and army patrols. In this region of Upper Egypt, 351 police officers, suspected terrorists and bystanders of varying degrees of innocence were reported killed in the first 11 months of this year. …

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