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Some Egyptians Question Country's Role In Yemen Conflict


For Egyptians, the country of Yemen conjures memories similar to those many Americans have about Vietnam. Egypt lost more than 10,000 troops backing one side of a civil war in Yemen in the 1960s. And now many Egyptians are worried that their country is poised to fight there again as part of a Saudi-led coalition in a new Yemeni civil war. NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: It's the ninth day of the Saudi-led airstrikes against Yemeni rebels called the Houthis, who have taken over much of Yemen and forced out the president. The bodies are piling up and so is the destruction.


FADEL: And there is little to show success on the ground as Houthis, described by Saudi as an Iranian proxy, although less so by others, continues to push it to the south and the west of the country. Egypt has committed naval and aerial support and said they would send ground troops if necessary. And some Egyptians, even from the country's military establishment, are beginning to ask why their country is so involved in Saudi's war. Talaat Musallam is a retired major general in Egypt's army.

TALAAT MUSALLAM: I feel that the intervention is going to destroy parts of Yemen, destroy Yemen army and waters. I don't see any other result, neither now or in the future.

FADEL: Destruction is not a result, he says. While Musallam says the Houthis are a danger on Saudi's border, he's worried that the largely Arab coalition, also backed by the U.S., is supporting a president with little popular base.

MUSALLAM: We are losing because we are supporting the man who has no future. And if we want to help him, that means that we have to send land troops.

FADEL: And once the president is back in his palace, then what? It's an answer, he says, no one has thought about. Khaled Fahmy is an Egyptian historian. He says today's war in Yemen is very different from the 1960s civil war there, when a powerful Egypt was opposing Saudi Arabia.

KHALED FAHMY: In the '60s, Egypt was flexing its muscles and attempting to expand its influence over the whole region and to, in a sense, have this war-by-proxy with Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

FADEL: Now, he says, it's the exact opposite.

FAHMY: The Egyptians are being dragged into this to assist the Saudis in their own struggle against the Iranians. And I don't think that the Egyptian leadership has thought this through.

FADEL: Saudi has funneled billions of dollars into Egypt's foundering economy. And today, Fahmy says, the bills come due. But despite the fact that there's no parliament and no free press, critical columns are creeping into local newspapers. Is it in Egypt's interest to confront Iran, one column asks in the largely independent Shorouk newspaper. Another, published in a government-backed newspaper, warns that Egypt should not be lured back into Yemen, a graveyard for armies. But El Sayed El Shalaby, the executive director of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, says this fight is in Egypt's interest.


EL SAYED EL SHALABY: The security of the Arab Gulf is a part of the Egyptian national security.

FADEL: But, he says, any decision to send in ground troops must still be made very cautiously. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.