The Road to Suez is long and flat. It goes through the desert, sometimes one lane, sometimes two, sometimes none at all when the dunes move in and cover the asphalt. It streaks past miltiary bases and through towns ofbaked mud, makes a turn here and a turn there and then stops suddenly at the Suez Canal -- a trench the French built in the desert.
At the canal, Abbu Mohammed, former captain in the Egyptian army and now a chauffeur by trade, got out of his Volvo and pointed to the spots where he had fought the Isrealis in 1973.Times have sure changed. Last week, he chauffeured the wife of the Israeli ambassador.
The white Volvo sits by the canal. A ship pokes its way to the Mediterranean Sea. Across the canal you can see trucks moving into the Sinai and when the Israelis were there, you could see them, too. The sky is cloudless. The desert, as always in Egypt, is nearby.So are some ruined houses. Mohammed points to them.
"See there," he says. Half the building is gone. "See there." The walls are pocked from machine-gun bullets. "See." A field of rubble.
Abbu Mohammed is 33 years old. He has three children -- all boys. In appareance, he is dark and handsome -- a knockdown version of Omar Sharif. He attended the war college and planned to make the military his career. He couldn't do it on captain's pay, so he quit. Now he drives cars to make a living.
It is impossible to say if Mohammed is typical. In many ways he is not. Whatever he is, though, he loves the peace that Anwar Sadat has brought him. "The peace is good," he says. "War, war, there is always war. The Arabs are crazy. They want war. Thirty years is enough. No more war."
His views, offered in a restaurant and without knowing I am a journalist, are precisely the same as a man I just happened to meet on the street. He used exactly the same phrase -- "30 years is enough" -- and while he expressed some criticism of Sadat for bringing the shah to Egypt, he had no problems when it came to peace with Israel.
We get back into the car and Mohammed shows me of other areas damaged in the war. Buildings here and there are gutted, some with wings or walls missing. In some places, though, the old buildings are completely gone and in their place are new high-rise apartment houses. In some sections they march along the road as far as the eye can see.
The damage at Suez City is worse. Here, whole blocks of housing were destroyed and parts of the town still look like Dresden or Berlin after World War II. Right at the beginning of the canal, behind a huge sign welcoming ships to Suez, is what's left of a house. Most of it was blasted away. Do they welcome peace with Israel?
It's clear, though, that the country could not continue to fight and still build. What it had decided to do is build. All over, new cities are rising out of the desert. Some of them have already been built. One, provided by the Saudis, is called King Faisal City. Another -- a much grander one -- is being built by the government.It is called Tenth of Ramadan City.
In Cairo, it is said that the Israli ambassador lives in relative isolation. A hostess who attempted to give him a dinner party was snubbed by everyone -- le tout Cairo. These are people who can afford to hold a grudge or make a point on principle. People like Abbu Mohammed cannot. With peace and the treaty with Israel, the Arabs from abroad who used to visit Cairo no longer come. Now Israelis do. To Abbu Mohammed, their money is as good as anyone's.
"People now like Israelis," he said."People now like."
You have to wonder if the enmity of 30 years can dissipate overnight. Certainly, for many Egyptians, it has not. You cannot see the destruction of Suez, the cemeteries of war dead and the artillery in the desert still and aimed toward Sinai and think that by some miracle hate has been replaced by love.
You cannot think, either, that the Palestinians have given up their fight or that the religious fundamentalists don't think that peace with Israel is an affront to Islam. But Sadat knows his country. He would not have invited the shah here if he felt threatened -- if the peace with Israel was unpopular with the likes of Abbu Mohammed. The man in the street seems to like peace. You can't blame him. He was the one getting killed.