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Plight of Bosnian Muslims Is Deeply Felt in Egypt

Despite public outrage, Egypt's government has remained cautious

ONE of Egypt's largest professional unions has mounted a campaign to aid Bosnian Muslims. Almost 8 million Egyptian pounds ($2.4 million) has been raised through private donations since the campaign started two months ago.

The 100,000-member Doctors' Syndicate has sent two shiploads of supplies and a medical team to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian forces are carrying out a policy of "ethnic cleansing" against Muslims and Croats. The former Yugoslav republic is 44 percent Muslim.

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Under the slogan "Give a pound, save a Muslim," the union's charity has advertized heavily for donations. Dr. Essam al-Iryan, a syndicate official, says Egyptians have been angered by Western opposition to military action to protect Bosnia's Muslims.

"This is unjust. Military action is essential to save the people," he says, asserting that the West's failure to act stems from its fear of an Islamic state in Europe. "If Bosnia were to become an Islamic state, and later Albania, Western officials couldn't accept it. Turkey is quite enough for them."

Popular sympathy for the Bosnian Muslims is high, both in Cairo and rural areas, where a recent upsurge in Muslim-Christian violence has left many villages in a virtual state of siege.

The Cairo press has depicted Serbia as a fanged vampire, its hands dripping with Muslim blood. One Serb, long resident in Egypt, said, "If they find out in Cairo that you are a Serb, they won't serve you beer." Artist Omar al-Nagdi has painted an immense mural depicting the war in a style remniscent of Pablo Picasso's "Guernica." A Cairo playwright is also said to be drafting a play based on the war.

AT a rally in the troubled Assiut province earlier this month, attempts were even made to link events in Bosnia with extremist Muslim violence in Egypt. "What happens in Assiut is a result of Muslim sentiment being stirred up over the massacre of their fellow Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the hands of Serbian forces," said the director of Assiut's Islamic religious institute.

Almost 60 people have died since March in sectarian clashes, mostly in Assiut. Leaflets distributed there have threatened vengeance against Christians for the Bosnian tragedy. The Assiut Bar Association also recently mounted a photo exhibition to publicize the war in Bosnia that included anti-Christian slogans.

"The Muslim Brotherhood - here sees [the Bosnian conflict as] straight forward: It's Christians killing Muslims. And it's not just in Egypt, also in the Gulf newspapers, the idea is to support your Muslim brothers," said Dr. Ali Eddin Dessouki, director of the University of Cairo's Center for Political Studies.

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While the Egyptian people have expressed outrage at atrocities in Bosnia, the government has maintained a cautious stance. Calls by Iran to form an Islamic army to defend Bosnian Muslims have been dismissed by government officials.

An envoy of Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visited Bosnia earlier this month, and said Iran should send arms to Muslims fighting Serb forces and called the fighting a "new crusade."

"The government is very anxious about this question of military support," said Fahmy Howeidy, an Egyptian writer on Islamic affairs. "But they are worried about supporting Muslims outside Egypt. They remember the Afghani experience."

Hundreds of religious young Egyptians joined Afghani mujahideen guerrillas in their war against the former Soviet Union. The government now fears that returning Egyptians will turn against President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Egypt has a long history of cultural and religious ties with Yugoslavia. Bosnia's senior Muslim clergy are all graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, the 1,000-year-old center of Sunni study.

The Mufti of Belgrade, married to an Egyptian, is an active participant in Arab conferences. Every year, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Al-Azhar dispatches clerics to Yugoslavia to lead prayers.

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