Wednesday, July 2, 2008

One Great Read For Today: What Iraqi Expats Are Saying Now

Cairo, Egypt:

Le Grillion is a restaurant-bar in the always-crowded downtown Cairo. But this restaurant has a particular significance amidst the relentless movement surrounding it. Le Grillion is a cultural center, where a wide spectrum of artists, playwrights, journalists and civil-society activists meet. Owned by an Iraqi, it has become a hive for many of the Iraqi expatriates who fled their country seeking refuge in Egypt. The discussion is endless, with a couple of new faces every night.

From deeply connected politicians to ordinary Iraqis, each has something to add. An interesting portrait of Iraq becomes full around midnight, an Iraq that is way more human than that shown on the Arab satellite channels (that of car bombs and sectarian conflicts). These Iraqis are not seeking an increase in viewership or a couple more pennies from ads before a newscast.

"I am from Fallujah" says one man – an art agent – with a cigar ever between his fingers. "We should make the most benefit from the Americans while we can. It is a moment of history. We either get a state now, or we will always be like this."

"The problem," responds a Baghdad printing house owner whose origins go back to the southern tribes, "is that since the day of the fall of the idol [Saddam's statue] people are asking who will rule us now. A disgusting question it is. It does not matter who rules, it matters how they rule."

I cannot keep my pleasure to myself. I saw my Iraq – one that I have only seen in poetry – in the near future: an oasis of peace and prosperity amidst the scorching desert, a home for its children and a sanctuary for its guests.

Women have something to add to this. A former colleague of mine at the University of Baghdad, who now lives with her family in Abu Dhabi, told me that she was stunned by the optimism of her fellow Iraqis when she went to support the Iraqi soccer team in a World Cup qualifier match against Australia in Dubai. "They were of every color in the Iraqi rainbow, but you can speak of two common things among them: telling you about their plans to go home within months and considering the Americans to be partners in that home they are returning to."

Another Chaldean Christian female friend of mine is now living in Jordan with her family after being forced to leave their house in Al-Ameriyya, Baghdad, by al Qaeda militants. She told me "it seems that the Americans know what they are doing. They have been so patient with us, but it seems that we have learned our lesson now."

Even those who were heralding the victory of "the resistance" are now lowering their voices before the simple but compelling logic of young men and women that have never been a part of any political process. I asked the gang at Le Grillion what they thought about the proposed long-term treaty with the Americans. The answer came immediately: "We have nothing to give the Americans; we are the ones who should be thankful!"

Everyone nodded to the remark, except a couple of Egyptian communists sitting nearby. They dared not object, however.

My greatest fear – and it seems to be the case for all my new friends here – is the future of the American presence in Iraq. Our tongues and our minds have been freed, and yes we are heading home, but the Americans might run out of patience before we can make it.

Mr. Al Faddagh is an Iraqi writer living in Cairo. This article was translated from Arabic by Amr Bargisi.

"Everyone nodded to the remark, except a couple of Egyptian communists sitting nearby. They dared not object, however."

I believe this is a case of mistaken identity. I'm pretty sure what the author describes as "Egyptian communists" were in reality American Democrats.

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