A look at the war from Cairo
Terence J. Fitzgibbons
Our study-abroad advisor from Notre Dame visited Cairo today, and she mentioned that there have been numerous letters in the Observer about worries for students studying abroad. Also, the office in Hurley Hall has received many phone calls from parents concerned about their kids in the different programs.
I always appreciate it when friends ask me how I am holding up and how safe I feel, but I wish I could bring all those people here to see what it's really like. My friend and fellow domer, Aaron and I, are doing just fine in Cairo. I assume the same is true for all the students abroad elsewhere.
On the streets, when people ask me where I am from, I refuse to hide and say I am from Canada. I always say proudly that I am an American. I hope, too, in several months time to have that same pride. Usually this leads into a discussion about Iraq. Yesterday, outside the mosque of Amr ibn al-As, I chatted in choppy Arabic with three old Egyptian men about the grave situation in the Middle East. They told me how they loved American people, and I told them how I loved Egyptian people. We decided that next week we ought to gather again outside the mosque and invite Saddam Hussein and President Bush to join us to discuss their differences. Not once did I feel uncomfortable.
Not once have I ever felt threatened here traveling or conversing, even in a section called "Old Islamic Cairo," whose name would probably scare many who have not been here. Insane traffic seems to be the only threat. I do not claim to have been to Iraq. Cairo is not Baghdad, I know, but Baghdad is not too far, nonetheless. I do not claim to have more perspective than anyone else at home. However, this experience inevitably shapes my perspective.
I hope some time to meet Aaron's two roommates who are from the Gaza Strip and maybe find out what life is like as a Palestinian. I enjoy getting harassed and surrounded by little Egyptian kids, who probably are not that different from kids in Baghdad and who probably are not that different from kids in South Bend.
I am fascinated by the anti-war demonstrations that take place on campus, because there are hundreds of police in riot gear ready to suppress any freedom of expression. The government just renewed the "emergency laws" in order to prolong this police-state for another three years, to everybody's disappointment. You see, there is little freedom here — even in Egypt — and these students want freedom more than anything, but they also do not want war and they fear American intervention.
I do not buy stories that Bush is only in this for oil or to finish something his father started. Weapons of mass destruction and changing the Iraqi regime are serious, truthful matters. In trying to soak all this in, though, my only truthful conclusion is that war is not the answer in this case. I knew that before I came here. This area is too complex to fully explain in this letter, so this may be an unsatisfactory answer to many: But, full-fledged diplomacy is the only way now. My hope is that Bush (and his advisors) knows what war will mean for people in this area and for Americans. My biggest fear is that he doesn't know.
No matter what happens here, I appreciate my friends' and family's concern. I am sure others abroad (and their families) are apprehensive, rightfully so, about what is going to happen in the world. But, please do not worry too much. If the war does happen, we will stay until the end of the semester because I am pretty sure we'll be fine.
Terence J. Fitzgibbons
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, March 7, 2003