Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, had some unhappy tidings to deliver the other day. The US occupation in Iraq, he said, has turned the Arab world against the American people.
"In the beginning, some people thought the Americans were helping them," Mubarak told the French newspaper Le Monde. "There was no hatred toward Americans." But "after what has happened in Iraq, there is an unprecedented hatred."
Well, if anyone should be up on the latest Arab scuttlebutt, it would be Mubarak, ruler of the world's largest Arab nation. But one can't help wondering -- why didn't he break this bad news a little earlier?
After all, a week before his interview with Le Monde, he was being hosted by President Bush in Crawford, Tex. Shouldn't he have told him then, face-to-face, just how things stand in the Arab world? When Bush opened their joint press conference on April 12 by hailing "the bonds of friendship" between America and Egypt -- when he called Mubarak "my good friend, Hosni" -- shouldn't the Egyptian ruler have set him straight?
Then again, Mubarak might have had good reason to hold his tongue. Bush probably wouldn't have taken kindly to being told a bald-faced lie like "There was no hatred toward Americans" before the Iraq war. Egypt's strongman may not have wanted to give the president an excuse to point out that four of the Sept. 11 hijackers, including mastermind Mohammed Atta, were Egyptian -- as is Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy.
Maybe Mubarak confined himself to diplomatic pleasantries in Crawford so as not to provoke any rethinking of the nearly $2 billion a year that Washington pours into his coffers. Since 1975, Egypt has received more than $50 billion in US foreign aid -- more than any other country except Israel.
"Why should America keep showing such generosity to the world's leading Arab state," Bush might have asked if Mubarak had started talking about Arab hatred, "if it is going to be repaid with resentment and violence?" The president might have pointed out that while Israel routinely supports the US position in international forums like the United Nations, Egypt almost always votes against it. If Bush were to demand an explanation for such rank ingratitude, what could Mubarak say?
"There was no hatred toward Americans." What a preposterous falsehood. Arab regimes have been inciting hatred toward Americans for years, and few have done so more consistently than the crude autocracy of Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt under an "emergency" decree for the last 23 years.
For example, it was Al-Ahram, a newspaper controlled by the Egyptian government, that claimed in October that US pilots flying over Afghanistan were dropping "genetically treated" food into areas booby-trapped with land mines -- hoping not only to make Afghans sick but to cripple or kill those who attempted to gather the food. It was Al-Akhbar, another regime-sponsored daily, that declared in August: "The Statue of Liberty . . . must be destroyed because of the idiotic American policy that goes from disgrace to disgrace in the swamp of bias and blind fanaticism. . . . The age of the American collapse has begun."
Examples of the anger engendered by the Iraq war? Hardly. Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar published those statements in October and August of 2001.
Earlier that year, Al-Akhbar had sneered that Secretary of State Colin Powell "has the brain of a bird" and acts "like a stupid teenager." Ground Zero was still smoldering less than a week after 9/11 when a writer in Al-Arabi, a Nasserist weekly, cheered the attacks: "In all honesty, and without beating around the bush," Ahmad Murad wrote, "I am happy about the great number of American dead. . . . I have a right to be filled with happiness; the Americans are finally tasting the bitterness of death." (Quotes are courtesy of the Middle East Media Research Institute, whose invaluable web site --www.memri.org -- contains a vast array of material translated from the Arab and Iranian media.)
It isn't only Egypt's media that whip up anti-American animus. Cairo's influential Al Azhar seminary, a government-backed institution, urged Muslims more than a year ago to wage "jihad" against the United States. A popular Egyptian singer has recorded a song accusing the United States of perpetrating the 9/11 attacks. ("Hey, people, it was only a tower," the lyrics run, "and I swear by God that they are the ones who pulled it down.") A former Egyptian minister of war compares Bush's policies to Nazism. And Mubarak himself, as the Washington Post recently observed, aggressively opposes the Bush administration's campaign for democracy in the Middle East, denouncing it as an outside imposition.
If Americans are hated in the Arab world, much of the blame can be laid to the influence of thugocracies like Mubarak's. Which is one good reason to stop supporting those thugocracies. The man Bush calls "my good friend, Hosni" is responsible for a good deal of cruelty and repression within Egypt's borders. If we truly want to neutralize the anti-American venom that has poisoned so many Arabs, we could begin by breaking off our embrace of the autocrats who oppress them.