An ancient sprawling cemetery here is one of the most moving sights in the world. It is filled with the long-dead and with more than a million living people who have nowhere else to go.
The City of the Dead, as it is known, is more than 600 years old. From the outside it appears as a huge Third-World village with street after street lined with low buildings. Behind the buildings are tombs for the great and not-so-great of centuries past. The buildings rarely have roofs because the dead don't mind the rain and the living here can't afford comforts.Egypt is a land without oil. Its per capital income is a paltry $700 a year. Food is subsidized, so Egyptians can buy the essentials. It's a hand-to-mouth existence. The best that someone in a lower middle-class family can hope for is a two-room apartment.
Those poorer than that find shelter where they can. And that is why, of the 12 million people who call greater Cairo their home, 1.5 million have elected to live with the dead in their roofless shrines.
It could be a hotbed of dissent against President Hosni Mubarak, but the residents of the City of the Dead have not organized themselves to protest his policies, nor his side-by-side foray with the United States and other Arab nations against Iraq.
In a society known for corruption at the top, Mubarak is remarkably clean. "I've never heard a whiff about Mubarak himself being corrupt," one knowledgeable U.S. intelligence source told us. Mubarak lives in a modest house. His living room is about one-third the size of the office of the U.S. ambassador in Cairo.
Saddam Hussein apparently didn't understand that side of Mubarak, because, before Saddam invaded Kuwait, he tried to bribe Mubarak to take his side. It started small, with an offer for Iraq to buy $50 million worth of Egyptian wheat last July.
Then, according to highly sensitive U.S. intelligence reports, Saddam upped the ante to billions of dollars, which he suggested Mubarak could personally pocket.
Then he sent his friend, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, to Cairo to whisper that if Mubarak agreed that Kuwait was now a province of Iraq, Saddam would forgive the $20 billion debt Egypt owed to Kuwait.
Mubarak was furious and sided squarely with the United States against the invasion. Poverty-stricken Egyptians might be forgiven if they differed with Mubarak on that decision. But dissent has been splintered and ineffective.
All this support doesn't come for free. The people of Egypt and their president expect some benefits from their partnership with America. The United States has already forgiven $7 billion in Egyptian debt. Saudi Arabia is secretly talking about building manufacturing facilities in Egypt and forming partnerships with Egyptians in other enterprises that create jobs.
Mubarak dreams that some day, with enough help from the new alliance, his people won't have to live with the dead.