Middle East Features
Friend or foe? Mistrust of foreigners amid Egypt revoltBy: Aya Batrawy, dpa (Feature)
Feb 6, 2011, 12:46 GMT
Cairo - As the taxi pulled up to a police checkpoint in Cairo, ID's were checked and the car was searched.
With hundreds of civilian, police and military checkpoints throughout the city, these types of searches in the evening during the hours of military curfew have become routine procedure since anti-government protests began 13 days ago.
But along with the unrest of nationwide protests calling for the ouster of President Hosny Mubarak, a growing suspicion of foreigners is sweeping through the country.
'If a foreigner rides with you, you take them straight to the military from now on,' a policeman told the taxi driver.
A few kilometres later, a soldier at a military checkpoint demanded the same.
For different reasons, both pro- and anti-government protesters have also grown wary of foreigners in recent days.
Among the anti-government camp, there are those who believe that Western allies are supporting the embattled president to stay in power until September, when he vowed not to run again in elections.
'This is the oppressing regime that the West has been supporting for 30 years, this violence is what it's doing to its people,' said Mustafa Hussein, as he looked down from his balcony onto Tahrir Square, where thousands of pro-democracy protesters continue to call for Mubarak to step down.
But suspicion of foreigners has also grown among Egyptians who believe that countries from Iran to Israel want to weaken Egypt.
Recently, Vice President Omar Suleiman said on state television that 'foreign agendas' and 'conspiracies' were behind Egypt's unrest. Such accusations have helped to sow distrust of foreigners.
'I think this is very orchestrated by state television, but I've been here for two years and experienced very little trouble as a foreign woman until now,' said Merrit Kennedy, a student in Cairo who also assists foreign journalists.
But last week, during interviews with people on the street, a man started accusing her and her colleagues of being Israeli or possibly working for al-Jazeera.
Soon, a crowd soon formed around Kennedy, and her Egyptian colleague was punched in the face several times, she said.
'It's tricky because this protest is inherently a grassroots- movement and we get a lot of support from people in Tahrir square, but I think there is mistrust of anything that looks like foreign intervention,' she said. 'My understanding is that this is a state- orchestrated campaign.'
Prior to the protests, having a Western passport would almost always guarantee better treatment by police who wanted to avoid diplomatic scuffles.
However, journalists, including foreigners or locals working for foreign news outlets, were targeted recently by Egyptian authorities, with at least two dozen being detained or arrested, though some have since been released.
Among others, German media reported Saturday that seven Germans, including members of the intelligence service BND, had been briefly arrested in Egypt.
Meanwhile, an Israeli correspondent was arrested by Egyptian intelligence as he photographed armed forces in Cairo and sent back to Israel - a day after three journalists also returned to Israel, following foreign ministry intervention.
Some foreigners reported being called names in the street, while others have tried to keep a low profile out of fear of arrest for simply not being Egyptian.
With tourism making up nearly 11 per cent of the country's GDP, tourists in the past had been regarded as a sign that Egypt's stability and economic growth were in good shape.
A common Egyptian phrase called 'ou'dit el aganib,' or foreigner's complex, even alluded to the underlying sentiment that foreigners were given better treatment in Egypt than locals.
But the mood has changed in Egypt for the time being. Popular resort towns along the Red Sea were shut down and out of 350 study abroad students registered to study this spring at the American University in Cairo, only about 20 remain.
'Only four per cent of tourists remain in Luxor and all the hotels are closed except for one, but this is a small problem that will pass,' the governor of the popular tourism town of Luxor Samir Farag told the German Press Agency dpa.
Read more about Egypt Unrest
Read more about Society