Egyptian Islamists, carrying a picture of late al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, march to the US embassy after the weekly Friday prayer in Cairo on May 6, 2011, during a demonstration to denounce the killing of bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan. – AFP Photo

CAIRO: Distracted by their uncertain future after the events of January 25, Egyptians received the news of Osama bin Laden's death with mixed emotions.

For starters, the divisions are apparent. Some see bin Laden as a hero and a martyr, others look at him as a terrorist and then there is the third group that is trying to make sense of it all.

"The news was a surprise. There were no indications of the operation. The way the US has dealt with the situation has generated a lot of anger here," said Khaled Baramawy, the editor-in-chief of Masrawy, a news portal popular with the Egyptian youth.

"We have an online poll on the webpage and it shows that the people are divided on the issue. Almost an equal percentage favours or disagrees with his killing, and overall we can say the results were tipping in bin Laden's favour."

The percentage of sympathy and support to al Qaeda's leader is on a rise if one is to go by the poll. Forty per cent say bin Laden is a hero and they are sad about his killing, 21 per cent say he was a terrorist and they are happy with his death, while 39 per cent have mixed feelings towards him. Moreover, there have been protests against his killing in Cairo and other parts of Egypt.

Elaborating on the emotions of the Egyptians, Baramawy said that readers "didn't focus on Pakistan as the place of the US operation. Rather, they want to know more about his hiding place, security systems, what he was eating and drinking". Baramawy also expected that the discussion about the news will disappear in a few days, and denied that Osama's supporters in Egypt could be a tributary that feeds al Qaeda.

Samir Said, a researcher in Israeli affairs and a writer at a leading Gulf newspaper didn't expect that the death of bin Laden will support any operations against Israel, the neighbour of Egypt and the main ally of America in the Middle East.

"No doubt that bin Laden's killing is a very important event but it is also symbolic. Al Qaeda will not die rather it will become more extremist and will launch more operations to prove that they are still strong," he explained.

Refuting the claims of the US government that bin Laden was killed in an operation, an al Qaeda supporter and former adviser for bin Laden, Ayman Alfayed said, "Bin Laden was killed in an American operation in 2001. The recent news of him being killed is false!" This theory of bin Laden being dead years ago also has it fair share of believers in Egypt.

"Al Qaeda has not ended with bin Laden's death. The outfit only works on two purposes: the first is fighting foreign armed forces in the areas which are occupied, the second is encouraging folks to make uprisings against their undemocratic regimes".

He also attacked all other Islamic groups, opinion leaders and what he named the "fake religion scholars" and regarded them as the main obstacle towards achieving al Qaeda's 'revolutionary' ideas. However, he claimed that "a lot of people have massive support for al Qaeda and its ideology."

While the older guard shows more restraint when it comes to talking about bin Laden and his death, the younger lot is more vocal. Ahmed, Islam and Omar, all three in their 20s, regarded the al Qaeda head as a terrorist. However, they were deeply shocked and disagreed with the manner the US dealt with his body.

"By throwing bin Laden's body in the sea, America has hurled the greatest insult. It was very much similar to the way the US dealt with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. They hanged Hussein at a time when the Muslims were sacrificing sheep on Eid ul Azha," they opined.

All three agreed that this step will increase anger for the US and might increase sympathies for bin Laden, however it will not feed al Qaeda with more militants.

Going through the Facebook pages on Egypt, one can clearly see that quite a few people, who are moderate Muslims and reject terrorism, had changed their profile pictures to that of Osama.

"This is the first time that I have changed my profile photo to another person's picture" said Mohamed Abd Elkhalek, an electrical engineer. He explains why he did that: "I have lost my patience with the US lies and what it does to us (Muslims and Arabs). I don't agree with bin Laden's ideology, but when I heard the news, I got angry. We will never allow anyone to insult our minds and lie to us after our revolution."

However, an interesting Facebook status was published by Yasser Alzayat, a poet and journalist. His Facebook wall carried the following warning: "On the same way of Doaa Sultan, I will remove any one who adds bin Laden's picture, or says he is a martyr like the martyrs of the upheaval, even if my wife did that."

Even in his death, bin Laden continues to divide the world where many see him as a terrorist extraordinaire but the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death and the way his body was disposed have elevated sympathies for him.

Yasser Khalil is an Egyptian researcher and journalist.



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