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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 13:13 GMT
Arab summit: Egyptian view
Egyptian protesters
There have been almost daily protests in Egypt
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By Heba Saleh in Cairo

Despite Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to stay away from the Beirut summit, Egyptians continue to feel passionate about the Middle East conflict.

The authorities are wary that any protest however small could get out of hand but in the run up to the summit there have been almost daily protests inside universities across the country.

Abul Ela Madi is an Islamic activist. "We need action, not a statement," he said. "We need action from Arab leaders in Arab Leagues.

"They should help the intifada by money, by political activities."

Peace offering

Mr Madi is one of several Egyptian intellectuals and activists from different political currents who have jointly called on the Arab leaders gathered in Beirut to reject a Saudi plan to bring peace to the Middle East.

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak: Decided to stay away from the summit
The Saudi initiative is based on offering Israel normal peaceful relations with the Arab world against its withdrawal from land occupied in 1967.

Professor Ashraf el Bayoumi explained why they oppose the Saudi plan.

"The Saudi initiative is completely unacceptable and it is a diversion," he said. "The so-called normalisation is a strategic goal of a dishonest entity."

But many Egyptians would disagree. Gathered around the game of backgammon in a Cairo cafe, some of the players said they would accept peace with Israel but only after it has returned Arab lands.

"We accepted before. Egypt accepted before. Why not? If they live with us, why not? But they must do their promise," one said.

The Saudi initiative, is better than no initiative

Hamia Sholkami
This man says the US should put pressure on Israel to make concessions because the Arabs are prepared for peace.

I asked sociologist Hamia Sholkami if she thought Arab public opinion was really prepared to offer Israel normal relations as the Saudi initiative says.

"The Saudi initiative, is better than no initiative if it can achieve some end to the violence.

"I think the Arab street would be for it but what peace with Israel would translate into will differ greatly from one country to another and from one class within each country.

Uncertain process

"Elitists might feel one way about it and the man on the street might feel another way about it so let history take its course but stop this war."

But even as they pin hope on the Saudi initiative, Egyptians know that if it yields results at all that would be after a long and uncertain process.

In the meantime, they remain wary that their leaders might make concessions to Israel and get nothing in return.

This may partly explain the Egyptian president's last-minute decision to stay away from the Arab summit after Israel refused to allow the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to take part.

See also:

26 Mar 02 | Middle East
Two observers killed in West Bank
27 Mar 02 | Middle East
Mid-East 'needs peacekeeping force'
26 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bright Beirut offers template for peace
27 Feb 02 | Middle East
What is in the Saudi peace initiative?
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Quick guide: Arab League
04 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: Arab League
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