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Wedeman: Blair's trip to Cairo

(CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the U.S-led coalition will "stand united" in the fight against terrorism. He was speaking at a news conference in Egypt -- his latest stop during a three-day Middle East tour to lobby support for the international coalition.

CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Cairo, following the story.

WEDEMAN: The purpose of Blair's current tour of the Middle East, of course, is to shore up Middle Eastern support for the U.S.-led strikes against Afghanistan, and, in general, its war against terrorism.

Now, of course, one of the major points of contention, in fact, between Egypt and Great Britain is that the Egyptians for years have been requesting the British government to hand over many members of the Egyptian Islamic militant movement that for years wreaked havoc in this country. They have complained many times to the British government that they would like these people handed over, and certainly we expect Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to raise that with Tony Blair.

Also, there is a major concern here that once this so-called Phase One of the U.S. strikes against Afghanistan ends, that somehow the United States and its allies are going to shift their focus to Iraq, in which case the current, rather shaky consensus among pro-Western Arab regimes supporting the United States could very well collapse.

So what the Egyptians may be looking for is some sort of commitment, which it appears neither Mr. Blair nor the United States can give, that Iraq, for one, will not eventually come within the targets of the United States.

CNN: But, Ben, while the public is still waiting to hear whatever commitment is going to come out on that, give us an idea of what's happening or what's being said right now on the street there.

We understand that usually what's been happening in many of these Islamic countries is that the governments may have been saying one thing about their support for what's happening in Afghanistan. However, people on the street are saying a completely different thing.

So do you get a sense that that's happening there in Egypt, and particularly in Cairo? And has it become problematic in any way?

WEDEMAN: We have seen many pictures of demonstrations in Egypt against the U.S. strikes, but it's worth pointing out that many of these demonstrators really do not represent the majority.

By and large, Egyptians were shocked by the strikes -- the attacks on the United States of the 11th of September -- and many people do have reservations about the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. They were genuinely shocked by those attacks in the United States, and they do not necessarily have that great a difference of opinion with the government.

It's really a question of method rather than target. Many people would like to see a somewhat more international effort being made against terrorism rather than, at the moment, what looks to be a very Western approach -- a very Western concentration on the question of terrorism.

So it's important to put the demonstrations we've seen in context and to understand that most Egyptians do not support Osama bin Laden. Most Egyptians, in fact, were shocked by the attacks on the United States and would like to see terrorism put to an end.


• Blair: Coalition will stay united
October 11, 2001

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