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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Egypt's cautious backing for US
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Mubarak has to placate anti-western sentiment in Egypt
By Heba Saleh in Cairo

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has said again that Egypt would not commit any troops to America's war against terrorism.

Mr Mubarak was speaking ahead of a visit to Egypt by the American Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.


Public opinion here is largely hostile to United States policy, which places Mr Mubarak in a sensitive predicament

The president made it clear he wanted to scotch any rumours about the extent of Egypt's potential involvement in America's campaign against terrorism.

"Please don't say the American defence minister is coming to request our forces. No, he is not requesting our forces or anything else. He is coming to exchange ideas on what is happening in the region," said Mr Mubarak.

The idea of Egyptian troops participating in attacks against other Muslims would be extremely unpopular here.

But apart from the question of troops, Egypt has made it very clear that it supports the United States in its efforts to punish those who attacked its cities.

Co-operation

Egypt and the US have been exchanging intelligence, and according to western diplomats the US is satisfied with the level of co-operation.

Osama Bin Laden
Egypt says it no longer needs proof of Osama Bin Laden's involvement
In the last 10 days, Mr Mubarak appears to have dropped earlier reservations about America's war against terrorism.

At least in public, Egypt is no longer demanding to be shown proof of the involvement of Osama Bin Laden and his organisation in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

Western diplomats say the Egyptians have all the proof they need from their own intelligence sources.

Some diplomats say, however, that Cairo might ask Mr Rumsfeld for evidence that could be shown to the Egyptian public, which is anxious that the West may be going to war against Islam.

Many Egyptian newspapers have been promoting this view with hysterical headlines about American plans to bomb a large swathe of the Arab world and talk of Jewish conspiracies to set the Muslim world against Muslims.

Opposition to attack

Another main concern for Egypt, diplomats say, is the nature and scale of the expected attack on Afghanistan.

F-16
Egypt will not join US attacks against Arab countries
Like other countries in the region, Egypt is concerned that American military action should not result in the killing of large numbers of innocent Afghans - something which would be deeply upsetting to Arab public opinion with potentially destabilising consequences.

Yet another important red line for Egypt is that no Arab country should be targeted.

Washington has already excluded that for the first phase of its campaign, though it is refusing to rule it out for later.

Almost certainly Egypt will be pressing the Americans on this issue.

But diplomats say Mr Mubarak no longer criticises the idea of a coalition against terrorism as divisive because it does not appear that America has set its sights on any Arab state.

Anti-US feelings

Public opinion here is largely hostile to United States policy, which places Mr Mubarak in a sensitive predicament.

Israeli policemen
Egyptians want the region's underlying problems addressed too
Many Egyptians have applauded the attacks in America seeing them as deserved punishment because of US support for Israel.

This makes it very difficult for Egypt to throw in its lot unreservedly with the United States.

Now, like other Arab leaders, Mr Mubarak is pressing for a stronger American role in achieving a just settlement for the Palestinians.

His argument is that terrorism would not end unless the sense of injustice and humiliation which feed it in this region have been dealt with.

Egypt has already welcomed Washington's statements on the need for a Palestinian state.

Mr Mubarak will probably want to know more from the visiting American defence secretary on American plans in this direction.

Diplomats suggest it will be another important item on the agenda along with issues relating to the expected strike against Afghanistan.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom Heap
looks at what the Arab world might want in return for backing the Western Alliance
See also:

04 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld in Egypt for anti-terror talks
03 Oct 01 | Middle East
Gaza violence clouds Rumsfeld mission
01 Oct 01 | Middle East
Military build-up alarms Gulf Arabs
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Egypt helps US anti-terror campaign
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country Profile: Egypt
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