We first sat and talked in those numb days right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.We mourned together, and Mohamed Elmougy helped me understand a little more about what had befallen us.

I returned several times over the years to visit with the local Muslim community leader. And this week’s fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq seemed a good time to once again glimpse the world through his eyes.

Mohamed, 49, owns the Pyramids Hotel in Allen. He’s Egyptian by birth and American by choice.

He opposed the war from the start. “You will remember that I said getting out won’t be nearly as easy as going in,” he said.

I remembered, particularly since I had bought the argument that Iraqis would welcome us.

“We were fools to think we were going to be seen as liberators,” Mohamed said. “We are seen as occupiers, and we always will be.”

Mohamed agreed that Saddam Hussein needed to go but says he should have been captured in a surgical strike and put on trial in an international court, like Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Of course, hindsight is of little help at this point. I was most eager to hear his thoughts on what we should do now. And since the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates offer such divergent strategies, I asked the question in that context.

“Six months ago I had every intention of voting for John McCain,” he said. “I felt he was very sincere, that he was speaking his mind, and I respected him as someone who really understands war.

“But after seeing how he has changed his tone to cater to the evangelical right, I just can’t support him anymore. It would just be more of the same,” he said.

He believes Hillary Rodham Clinton would be seen overseas as simply the return of the Bill Clinton administration, with whatever lingering baggage that involves.

So he supports Barack Obama as the best hope for a fresh start in international relations. “I like the idea that he’s willing to talk to our enemies,” Mohamed said. “This whole idea that you have to earn the right to talk to us. … I mean, how arrogant can we possibly get?”

As far as Mr. Obama’s promise of a quick pullout from Iraq, Mohamed says that may be the best of the bad options we face.


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