In the dingy recesses of Feshawi's, a famous cafe on the edge of the bazaar where Egyptians have been gathering for a century to sip mint tea, smoke their water pipes and talk of politics, Sayed Mustafa looked up from shining a customer's shoes.
"Of course I'm happy about the peace treaty," he said, as if surprised by the question. "When my sons grow up, they'll go into the army. Now we don't have to worry about them."
Mustafa, father of five girls and three boys, whom he supports by giving the best shines in Cairo, said that peace means "all my family will be safe."
Patrons at other tables listened with interest as Mustafa, squatting on the sawdust-covered floor, offered his views on the prospect of peace between Egypt and Israel.
Cafe-sitting is a favorite Egyptian pastime and Feshawi's, a rambling old warren only a stone's throw from the Great Mosque of Al Azhar, is a favorite spot for clerks, merchants, government functionaries and ordinary workmen to while away an hour or two.
The attractions are good coffee brought to marble-topped tables on brass trays, strong tea in battered enamel pots, a bit of old-time atmosphere with original chandeliers and elaborate mirrors, good vantage points for watching tourists getting fleeced in the bazaar and lively conversation.
Today, among the customers not watching soccer on television, the talk was of peace and Jimmy Carter. Patrons listening to the analysis Mustafa offered from behind his shoebrushes were eager to offer their own views.
"The first thing to remember is that Islam is a religion of peace," said Ahmed Fawzi, director of the workers' union at a big trading company. "But beyond that, we have lost the cream of our youth in four wars."
Laying down his water pipe to stress his point, he said that President Anwar Sadat was "audacious and brave" to seek peace with Israel and in doing so "helped his people and the Arab nation."
"Now we can use all that money for our needs at home," he added.
At the table next to him, two young women who work as clerks at the Central Bank were having their afternoon tea. Their views were similar to his.
"This will help us improve our country and leave our problems behind," said Mona Saad. "As for the other Arabs, some of them support us and some don't. There's nothing we can do about it. They might try to hurt us with a boycott or some other actions, but we will survive."
Among Egyptians of every class and level of education, the vast majority appear to have substantially the same opinion about the prospect of peace with Israel after 30 years of war. Aside from a few politicians who cling to the pan-Arab ideals of the Nasser era, a handful of leftist intellectuals and the extremists of the Moslem Brotherhood, Egyptians by all accounts support Sadat in pressing ahead for a peace treaty as strongly as they did when he first went to Jerusalem to seek it in November 1977.
It is not so much that the Egyptians have any fondness for Israel, a bitter enemy for 30 years, as that they are tired of an unending and unrewarding struggle that they feel has crippled the country to no good purpose. Although there is anxiety about the split with the other Arabs and a kind of spiritual malaise resulting from Egypt's isolation, Egyptians say the people feel that Sadat has obtained peace on honorable terms and they are happy to have it.
Since the dramatic announcement two days ago that the terms of an Egyptian-Israeli treaty had at last been worked out, there has been none of the spontaneous outpouring that marked the beginning of the peace initiative with Sadat's trip to Jerusalem.Egyptians say that is because it has been clear for some time that Sadat had ended the era of struggle with Israel, and peace is no longer a novel idea.
"This peace treaty is a great feat," said an inspector of history instruction from the Ministry of Education. "The people here are fed up with war. It costs lives and money and it set us back years."
As for the criticism from the other Arabs, he said: "They talk and talk, but they're not the ones who pay the price. It's not their young people getting killed."
Listening to that from his table across the room, Ibrahim Fahmy, a newspaper cartoonist, was unable to keep silent. Pulling up a chair, he ordered more coffee all around and plunged in.
"It's all a matter of economics," he said. Israel, he said, is still an illegitimate state, "planted in the Middle East by force, by the Americans. But Israel can't prosper without peace."
"Yes, and the Israelis were arrogant," said the history inspector. "Now this will make them not so arrogant, because Israel has stopped getting bigger and is getting smaller."
His colleague from the Education Ministry, a specialist in mathematics, was less certain that the Israelis are actually ready for peaceful relations.
"They're waiting to start again," he said. "Right now they're fighting our brothers in southern Lebanon. They are intransigent and they are extremists."
Though many Egyptians retain this suspicion of Israel and bitter memories of the wars, there also is an overwhelming curiousity about the country of Israel and the people who live there. Salah Sayed, a taxi driver who was in the cafe, expressed a popular feeling when he said that he favored peace too because it would mean he could drive his taxi "all the way to Tel Aviv to see what's there."