As fires blaze in the Gulf and the WEst frets over its oil supplies, many Egyptians are convinced the Iraq-Iran conflict benefits the two superpowers, was engineered by the superpowers, and can be solved by the two superpowers.
Although Egypt has declared its strict neutrality in the war, President Anwar Sadat has called for the United States to take a bolder approach on the mideast conflict.
It is widely assumed here that the key to the dispute lies with the Soviet Union and the United States which, many Egyptians from all walks of life believe , are manipulating the two Gulf rivals like puppets on a string.
"All these conspiratorial theories," says a US Embassy official in exasperation. "If anything happens anywhere people assume the Americans must be behind it . . . an American behind every bush."
With the crisis in the Gulf remaining fluid and volatile, and with no one able to predict where the fighting will lead, Egypt has appealed to the US to play a more active role.
In a barrage of statements, some of which necessitated quick denials, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat urged the US to start acting like a superpower and "take action" in the Gulf. "If i were in their [the Americans'] shoes, I would go there and tell them to stop," he told reporters.
But when asked if he were advocating US military intervention, mr. Sadat hedged, saying the US is "much more capable than me" to make such a decision. But he urged the US "not to lose this opportunity or give it to the Soviet Union."
Then at the recent congress of the National Democratic Party, Mustapha Khalil , deputy secretary-general of the party and former prime minister, set hearts aflutter with a slip of the tongue, saying Egypt supported "US" instead of "UN" intervention in the Gulf.
Newspaper commentators have been more blunt, calling for US or UN intervention if Iraq and Iran refuse to observe a cease-fire.
To American officials here, Egyptian calls for US action seem surprising. "Everyone is always saying we should do this or that," says one. "we're not the world policeman. Especially since we have such limited ability with the leaders of those two countries. The best possibility is mediation in an Islamic context."
While President Sadat attiributes the fighting to personal differences between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, in many different Egyptian circles -- from journalists to university professors to Foreign Ministry officials -- it is believed that the US is behind the start of the fighting, a sentiment that has been repeated by the Iranians.
One Foreign Ministry official pointed to Iraq's warming relations with the West. "What Iraq did," he says, "it did with the green light from the US. The way [Jordan's] King Hussein came out publicly supporting the fighting. How could he do that?"
Another widely held view is that the superpowers support the war because it will increase the dependency of the Gulf countries.
"You and the Soviet Union wanted this war," says a middle-aged Egyptian standing in front of the Islamic museum, "so you can sell more arms to both countries. We fought a war for 10 days and were hungry for arms for 10 years. They will fight a war for 10 days and be hungry for 20 years."
Speculation rages about what might happen if the fighting continues -- the emergence of a strengthened Iraq allied with Saudi Arabia, the dismemberment of a defeated Iran by the Soviet Union and Iran's autonomy-seeking minorities, the possible fall of the Hussien and Khomeine regimes. it seems certain, however, that the fallout from the war will affect the stability of the region for a long time to come.
The end of the war, Egyptians remain convinced, lies in the hands of the US and the Soviet Union.