NEW YORK (Dec. 20)
Despite the devastation of the Egyptian economy as the result of the Six-Day War, the fellahin have been virtually untouched and live as they have always lived with the result that they have remained loyal to Nasser and are prepared to follow him into another war with Israel. These were the conclusions reached by Wall Street Journal correspondent Ray Vicker, after visiting an Egyptian village typical, he said, of those in which 24 million of the country’s 31.5 million people live.
Writing from the village of Mit-Rahina, the correspondent reported that the war has had an impact on the villages in only the smallest ways, the chief being the curtailment of kerosene supplies. “The peasantry remains almost untouched by the conflict of captains and kings,” the correspondent declared. “Their stomachs still full, their way of life unshaken, the fellahin have no reason to abandon their firm allegiance to President Nasser–one important reason why Egypt’s ruler has been able to maintain a strong diplomatic (if not military) front against Israel, despite crushing problems.”
The Wall Street Journal correspondent painted a grim picture of the Egyptian situation. “Economic worries continue to mount,” he said, “Egypt today is nearly insolvent, and owes more than one billion dollars to foreign governments, not including debts incurred in the recent acquisition of Red arms to replace those abandoned in the desert during the June war. Roughly 80% of the UAR’s oil-refining capacity has been destroyed by Israeli shelling. The cotton crop, an important export, is off 11 percent this year because necessary insecticides weren’t distributed. The Suez Canal, which normally brings in $250 million a year, is shut down. The tourist business has all but disappeared. Amin Shaker, Minister of Tourism, estimates it formerly brought Egypt $100 million a year.”
The correspondent noted the aid Egypt is receiving from the Communist bloc, the other Arab states, Italy and France, but, he said, “the real strength of Egypt lies in the apparent willingness of its people to trust President Nasser’s judgment. A Western diplomat in Cairo, asked if economic pressures are likely to force the UAR into a settlement with Israel, shakes his head and declares: ‘the world is going to have a long wait if it thinks economic problems will force the UAR to bargain on Israeli terms.”
Mr. Vickers reported that “unrealistic as the determination not to compromise with Israel may seem to a visitor, it is obviously firmly entrenched. And it is entrenched most firmly of all among the fellahin.” He points out that “almost no one places any blame for the war and Egypt’s defeat on President Nasser.” One villager he quoted as typical, said the fiasco was caused by “bad people” since removed from the government, and “on Israeli aggression supported by the United States.”