CAIRO – Reaction on the streets of Cairo to Osama Bin Laden’s death ranged from joy to disbelief to anger over the alleged burial at sea.
“It’s the best news I have ever heard,” confided a former Egyptian general reached by phone who did not want to be named. “He was the source of terrorism in the entire world!”
“I want to say to Mr. Obama, thank you, thank you so much!” said Mohamed Gharib, a travel agent who blamed bin Laden for acts of terror in Luxor and the Sinai.
Sherif al Helw, an investment banker, shared a hope that bin Laden’s demise would lead to regional peace. “Part of me was relieved. I don’t know why I was relieved, but maybe I thought that would soon lead to the end of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, which would bring a little more stability to the region.”
However, many refused to believe that the infamous escape artist was at last cornered. “He is like a genie,” said one young man who wouldn’t give his name. “Maybe the man was an imitation or somebody who looks like him. There are lots of mountains and places to hide in Pakistan.”
Burial at sea
Others were angered by the nature of the attack and burial at sea.
The U.S. “acted like a cowboy, thugs, and not a civilized country,” said Mamdouh Ismail, a defense lawyer for Islamic militants and the founder of Al Nahda, an Islamic fundamentalist party. He was angered by the American violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by going in to kill bin Laden.
“What Obama said is untrue. It wasn’t a victory. On the contrary, it is bin Laden who won because he achieved what he said he wanted in his speeches…he said he won’t be arrested and will fight and become a martyr,” said Ismail.
But it was bin Laden’s reported burial at sea that Ismail found utterly shocking and unforgivable.
“I think this kind of news will provoke an angry reaction in the whole Islamic world because we have rules about how to bury the dead and this will ignite a furious reaction because they did not follow Islamic practice,” said Ismail. “This is against all human rights, principles and respect for the dead.”
The White House says that bin Laden’s burial was done in conformance with Islamic “precepts and practices.” They say his body was washed, placed in a white sheet and then placed inside a weighted bag. According to the White House, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic, and then his body was tipped from a flat board and eased into to sea.
Essam Aryan, a relatively moderate leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, also was troubled by the burial. “According to any religion, his body must be handed over to his family. This is inhuman to keep the body away from the family.”
However, Aryan did see bin Laden’s demise as a chance to turn a new page. “I think this can mean a new start for a good relation built on dual respect, common values, common interests.”
He blamed the al-Qaida chief for distorting the image of Islam and opined that since the U.S. has “taken its revenge” on bin Laden, the country could adopt a new policy toward Muslims and Arabs.
“Now it is time to correct this image and to respect Muslims all over the world. It is time to end the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and announce that it is time for the rights of the Palestinians to be respected,” said Aryan. “I hope now we have the end of such an era, the era of violence, the era of wars, the era of disrespect of humanity, of Muslims and Arabs. America killed not only Osama bin Laden, America killed a million in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.”
Although reaction toward the fatal attack on bin Laden was mixed, nobody doubted al-Qaida’s resolve to avenge his death.
It should be noted that bin Laden’s No. 2 man was Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri. He remains a key target for the United States and has a $25 million bounty on his head. He would presumably take charge of the al-Qaida operation in bin Laden’s absence.
“I am sure [Ayman al-Zawahiri] will react, but I don’t know how. He was bin Laden’s friend and companion in the organization and had strong relations to him,” said Ismail. “There is no doubt there will be a reaction, but God knows what it will be.”