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Uncertain future for Egypt, U.S.

What extraordinary events to happen in Egypt over the past fewweeks.

Only time will tell on the positive and negative effects of akey ally of the United States. Only time will tell on how itaffects Middle East relations. Only time will tell if democracytakes hold or if this ancient country follows the ways of Iran.

Having walked through the Tahrir Square this past October, theevents of the past few weeks have been the cause of much interestand reflection.

I was in Cairo as part of a delegation of newspaper editorsrepresenting the National Newspaper Association at the invitationof the American-Egyptian Cooperation Foundation. Our weeklong visittook us to meetings with government officials, historical areas andtourist sites. We had access not available to the average touristand thus had the opportunity to receive a different touch and feelof the Egyptian culture.

We witnessed the intensity of the people that could be seen inthe news coverage of the protests of the past few weeks. But theintensity we saw was of a different sort – that of pride in thehistory of what one of our guides proudly called the birthplace ofcivilization.

In the famous Khan El-Khalili, where vendors have been sellingtheir wares for centuries, we could feel the intensity ofshopkeepers determined that we spend a few Egyptian pounds. Everwatchful, our guides would keep a close eye and brush off those whowere too intense. Smiles would appear, as shopkeepers would respondwith a single-word question, “Americans?”

Walking barefooted in the Mosque of Al-Azhar we could feel theintensity of the faithful saying their prayers – one of fiverequired times per day.

Meeting with government officials we could feel the intensity oftheir desire to build a stronger society for their people.

Driving through the streets and in the poorer areas we could seethe intensity of the people trying to make ends meet and keep aroof over their heads. In more affluent areas you could feel theintensity, but at a different level.

On January 25, that intensity became focused on a differentarea, resulting in the protests and unrest of the past few weeksand the removal from power of President Mubarak after 30 years ofauthoritarian rule.

Reports of looting of the famed Egyptian Museum, which housesantiquities dating back some 5,000 years, brought much concern.Photos of broken artifacts once handled by King Tutankhamen wereshocking, but more recent reports that the looting was limited anddamage repairable are reassuring.

Tourism is a vital part of the Egyptian economy and the eventsof the past few weeks will take their toll on the country’seconomic well-being as tourists avoid the area in the coming monthswhile Egypt works out its problems.

While the events of Friday afternoon will point the country in anew direction, the question becomes what direction. Pro-West oranti-West?

“Insallah” was a phrase we heard much during our visit.

It is used at the end of many declarative sentences. With theuncertainty of the coming days as the political future isdetermined, the use of the term will be even more significant.

It means, “God willing.”

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602,or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.