Egypt's reaction to protests

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, has reiterated that the results of the disputed presidential election will stand. He said neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure. The pressure's coming from the candidates who opposed the declared winner, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and from ordinary Iranians who've demonstrated in the streets for nearly two weeks now. They charge that the election was stolen. There were small demonstrations reported in Tehran today. One near the parliament buildings was broken up by security forces using clubs and teargas. The protests have been greeted with sympathy in the West, but in the Middle East, there is ambivalence. Ursula Lindsey's been sampling opinion in Egypt.

URSULA LINDSEY: The Egyptian government, like many other Arab regimes, is not on good terms with Iran. It views Iran's nuclear ambitions and its regional influence with deep concern. In April, the Egyptians arrested members of the Iranian supported Islamist group Hizbullah, who'd sneaked into Egypt. Egyptian officials have criticized Iran and issued stern warnings that it must change its ways. But the regime of President Hosni Mubarak isn't a fan of street protests either. Mubarak has been in power for 28 years and has repressed all domestic democracy movements. Hossam Hamalawy is a journalist, blogger and opposition activist.

HOSSOM HAMALAWY: I think the government is quite worried. Whatever happens in Iran, you know, like by the domino effect, it can spread to the rest of the region. There is no question that the regime hates Ahmadi Nejad. I mean, that's, they've even said it on the record. But does the regime see Musavi as an acceptable alternative or not? Does the regime see the demonstrators to be within Musavi's control or not? I mean, I think really that the president is quite worried, at the moment.

URSULA LINDSEY: He may have some reason to be. This is one of several recent TV talk shows dedicated to events in Iran. A caller to the show says that in Iran there are alternatives to Ahmadi Nejad. To have alternatives to your president is a beautiful thing, he says. It's something that's missing in Egypt. A letter to the editor of an opposition newspaper expresses a similar sentiment. The writer says the election in Iran filled him with sadness when he compared it to elections in Egypt. The Iranian people expected their vote to count, he writes, and there were strong candidates running, unlike in Egypt. But there are also plenty of voices here defending Ahmadinejad. Many here see him as a leader who stands up to the West. Salah Eddin Dessouki recently organized a seminar in Cairo on the Iranian election.

SALAH EDDIN DESSOUKI: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] Right or wrong, the Arab street is with Ahmadi Nejad. His position towards Israel is clear, his position towards the US is clear, he's pursuing nuclear power. The street wants Ahmadi Nejad to win.

URSULA LINDSEY: And not just the street. Mustafa Al-Labbad is a specialist on Iran. At the seminar, he warned his audience against drawing simple conclusions.

MUSTAFA AL-LABBAD: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] There's a division. Ahmadi Nejad is considered the candidate of the poor and the enemy of the US and Israel. As if Musavi is the protector of the rich and the friend of America and Israel. This is incorrect, ideological talk. All the claims that this is an angelic regime and that this is an American conspiracy, I don't think the demonstrators in the street are the expression of an American conspiracy, I think they express the popular will.

URSULA LINDSEY: But almost everyone at the seminar insisted that Musavi's supporters must be backed by the US. One participant even compared Ahmadi Nejad favorably to beloved former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. That lead to a shouting match between him and Al-Labbad. These kinds of heated arguments are also taking place on Egyptian blogs and in newspaper columns. Egyptians may not know quite what to make of events in Iran, but they know they matter. For the World, I'm Ursula Lindsey in Cairo.