As the second three-month ceasefire in the Middle East enters its final ten days, life in Cairo appears normal and relaxed - with traffic rolling on unimpeded and sidewalk cafes filled with patrons sipping coffee.
As the second three-month ceasefire in the Middle East enters its final ten days, life in Cairo appears normal and relaxed - with traffic rolling on unimpeded and sidewalk cafes filled with patrons sipping coffee. But, only some 80 miles (128 kilometres) east, at Port Suez, the situation is very different. Disused oil refineries and buildings look over empty streets and the only activity seems to come from military vehicles and personnel on guard duty along the Suez Canal.
As United Nations' Peace Envoy Gunnar Jarring discusses the Middle East crisis with both sides in New York, Diplomatic observers note that both Israeli and Egyptian delegates appear to be less critical of each other's positions than they have been. Proposals are being put by both parties and by impartial observers - and indications are that an extension to the ceasefire will be negotiated before it expires on February 5th.
In Cairo, while officials say that no progress is being made to find a solution to the problem - many upper class Egyptians are reported to be more and more inclined to say that peace should be reached at any cost, even if it means ceding some of the points on which they have so far been adamant, such as letting Israel keep the Sinai Peninsula. However Government official policy at present would not indicate that they would be likely to take this line.
Port Suez is one of the major potential trouble spots in the event of a resumption of hostilities. Prior to 1967 it was a prosperous and busy town. The area covered by the Port, Ismalia and Port Tewfik had 200,000 inhabitants and a thriving industry - headed by oil refining. But, in 1967 Port Suez alone was attacked seven times, in 1968 eight times and, in 1969, every day until the ceasefire in August. During the three years, 60% of the buildings were destroyed and 482 civilians killed and 1,242 wounded. All major businesses and industries have moved elsewhere - and the few people that remain other than the soldiers, still sit in the few cafes that remain open. When asked what they expected after February 5th, one man replied: "The Egyptians will recover their land by peaceful means, or by force if necessary. We don't want war, but we are prepared."