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My friend the dictator

Enter a Cairo neighborhood where Saddam Hussein is spoken of fondly.

With the help of the U.S., which had supported the Baathist efforts to overthrow Qasim, Saddam moved to Damascus, where he spent three months before heading to Cairo under the protection of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Syria and Egypt at the time were the two members of the United Arab Republic, a political union formed by the two countries based on the nationalist principles that the Baathists espoused. It was under this union that Saddam moved from Syria to Egypt and enjoyed Nasser’s protection.

“The Egyptian capital abounded with political activists and exiles of all sorts,” wrote Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi in their book "Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography." According to the authors, “Saddam quickly integrated into this vibrant community.”

That’s when he met Naguib said they became friends. “I was just opening the pharmacy in 1960, so I was befriending anyone who came in!” he explained.

Saddam settled into the upper-middle class Cairo neighborhood of Dokki. He finished high school, took a few classes at Cairo University, and plotted his return to Iraq with other Baathists. As part of the latter effort, he joined the Baathist regional command in Cairo, according to Karsh and Rautsi.

Accounts of Saddam’s life in Cairo have tended to vary.

“He was very normal,” said Abdel Rabuh Gad Abdel Rabuh, who works at Indiana Cafe, one of Hussein’s favorite haunts. “He came in and smoked his shisha like anybody else.”

Abdel Rabuh was only 3 years old when Saddam arrived in Cairo, but he grew up in the cafe and Saddam, he said, has long been a frequent topic of conversation.

Some local media reports indicated that Saddam was quick to throw punches when he got in disputes with other Indiana patrons.

According to Naguib — and confirmed by Abdel Rabuh — he and Saddam drank tea at the pharmacy most afternoons.