CAIRO: Ezzat Abdel-Rahman says Palestinians are suffering great injustice at the hands of Israel but they should have followed Egypt s lead and long ago made peace with the Jewish state.
He also says Egypt should not open its border with Gaza to let Palestinians flee the six-day Israeli assault, as demanded by Hamas and many Arabs.
This could get Egypt into trouble with Israel, said the 42-year-old, who runs a shop selling shoes in central Cairo. Israel could accuse Egypt of smuggling weapons into Gaza and dump the problems of Gaza on Egypt.
Despite the fiery rhetoric of Islamists and activists who demand strong action against Israel, many average Egyptians say they do not want the country dragged into another Middle East conflict, in rare agreement with a usually unpopular government.
Many say Hamas insurgents, who rule the Gaza Strip, could have avoided the attacks that killed more than 400 people if it had stopped firing its ineffective rockets at Israel.
Hamas is acting against the Palestinians, said Mohamed Kamal, also a central Cairo shopkeeper, and one of a dozen Cairo residents interviewed by Reuters this week. There is no reason for firing rockets. What are they hitting anyway? he said.
Others, reflecting views promoted by state-run papers, said Hamas was acting with Iran and Syria, its main two supporters, to undermine Egypt and drag it into a conflict with Israel.
At a women s hairdresser, a worker was arguing with a customer that Egypt, has done enough for the Palestinians, a widely shared view among Egyptian citizens and government officials.
Egypt, the most populous Arab country and once seen as the bastion of Arab nationalism, fought four wars with Israel between 1948 and 1973. In 1979, it became the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state.
Hani El-Husseini, a veteran politician with the leftist Tagammu opposition party, said the Egyptian intelligentsia, many of whom favor tough measures such as breaking ties with Israel, are divorced from the reality of public priorities.
The popular interest in regional issues has waned because people have surrendered to the notion that no Arab power can change the situation (with Israel), he said.
The popular position is leaning toward peace, he said, despite the general hatred of Israel.
The Egyptian government says that if it left the border with Gaza wide open Israel would wash its hands of responsibility for ensuring Gazans receive enough supplies to keep them alive. Officials also say the probable influx of Gazans would pose a security risk because militants could sneak in among them.
But thousands of Arabs have rallied against Egypt in cities such as Beirut and Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, accusing Cairo of cooperating with Israel against Hamas and Palestinians.
Such sentiments reflect a widening gap among Arabs, with one group viewing Hamas and Hezbollah, the anti-Israeli Lebanese group, as part of a regional defiance front led by Iran and Syria against Israel and the United States.
The other camp says that only civilians pay the price for what they call useless military adventures.
The split was on display between two friends at a coffee shop in the center of Cairo this week.
We have reached a stage when (Israel) is slapping us on the back of our neck, said 33-year-old Mohamed Abdallah. He praised Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for calling on Egyptians to rise and support Gaza. He is a man of principle.
No, he is not, said his friend Mohamed Latif, an Egyptian working in the United Arab Emirates. Our government is right.