FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Egypt’s Convenient War

Sinai is both heaven and hell. This triangular desert boasts an arid landscape of hopeless horizons often interrupted by leftover military hardware from previous wars. The land is comprised of breathtaking beaches, incredible history, and a fusion of fascinating cultures that reach back into the past as far as ancient times can possibly go. This thrilling land of contradictions is amazing, yet lethal.

But Sinai is also a place where hundreds of thousands of mostly poor people struggle to survive against incredible odds. Although poverty and illiteracy in Egypt can reach exceptional heights, hardship in Sinai is especially worse.

Since Israel returned the last of Sinai territories to Egypt in 1982, I visited the place nearly ten times, the last being two years ago. And each time, the situation seemed considerably worse.

There was once a time when Sinai thrived in hope; that’s when much of Sinai was being reclaimed by Egypt, one piece at a time. Israel bargained every step of the way, before it finally left Taba, but not before having gained many conditions. It even placed limits on the number of Egyptian soldiers that could be simultaneously stationed in Sinai at a given time. Since then, the desert the size of 60,000 sq km has been impossible to control.

Not that Sinai – perceived as unruly and ungovernable land, rife with drug dealers, kidnappers, and, as of late of ‘jihadits’ and ‘terrorists’ – needs more military force. Violence in Sinai often goes unreported. The area is almost vacant of any independent journalists. News of killings, arrests, torture and a whole host of human rights violations arrive in bits and pieces, hardly ever followed by informed investigations. Few, if any are ever held accountable.

But violence emerging from Sinai itself, however predicable, considering the level of misery, destitution and poverty, is often extenuated by the media and exploited by Cairo to the maximum. The overall nature of violence in Sinai remains a mystery, and not by accident. The explanation is almost always politically motivated, followed by pre-calculated moves to blame certain parties and punish others. This is unlikely to change soon.

Following well-coordinated attacks that killed scores of security personnel in northeast Sinai on Friday, October 24, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addressed Egyptians in a televised speech as he was surrounded by a throng of men in military fatigues. Even before any thorough investigation, or any clear evidence, he denounced the “foreign hands” behind the attacks.

He took on the “foreign powers who are trying to break Egypt’s back,” vowing to fight extremism in a long term campaign. Washington quickly offered its support for the proposed campaign. Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared his support.

Israeli media were particularly interested in the proposed Egyptian security measures. Radio Israel and the Jerusalem Post cited Egyptian media reports on October 25, saying that “the government plans to establish a buffer zone along the Sinai frontier with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.”

Hamas, which is struggling to cope with the aftermath of Israel’s massive 51-day war on the Strip and is working to end the siege, has no interest in carrying out bloody attacks on Egyptian soldiers that will prolong the suffering of Gazans and further alienate the movement.

The Post quoted Egypt’s Al-Yom a-Sab’a: “The Egyptian buffer will extend between 1.5 and 3 kilometers. The security forces will work to clear the area of underground tunnels leading to Gaza and it will also level any buildings and structures that could be used to conceal smuggling activity.

Other arbitrary actions are also expected to be taken which will further the isolation of Gaza. Is this why Mahmoud Abbas is particularly sympathetic to the ‘anti-terror’ measures initiated by Sisi?

If the intentions are truly to curb attacks in Sinai, knee-jerk military solutions will backfire. Past government violent campaigns only frustrated a difficult situation in Sinai, where poverty stands at 45 percent.

In his speech, Sisi called on Egyptians to “be aware of what is being hatched against us”. “All that is happening to us is known to us and we expected it and talked about it before July 3,” he said, referring to the day the military overthrew Mohammed Morsi.

But Sinai turmoil has preceded the revolution, the election of Morsi, the coup and all the rest. The security vacuum that followed Egypt’s recent turmoil has indeed exasperated violence in the Sinai Peninsula, but that violence was rooted in a largely different political reality.

The deadly Sinai bombings of October 2004, and attack on tourists in April 2005, on Sharm el-Sheikh resort in the same year, and on Dahab in 2006, were all indicative of a different kind of war launched by militants and tribesmen. Sinai has been exploited by large multinationals who created perfectly serene communities for wealthy European and rich Arab tourists, but excluded the Bedouins, who had been promised major economic rewards. However, they got none.

The National Project for the Development of the Sinai was supposed to inject $20.5 billion into Sinai infrastructure between 1995 to 2017. That proved to be just hype; a mixture of unfinished projects and robust speeches. Sinai is only remembered in national celebrations to merely further highlight the might of the military that liberated it. And now, it’s demonized as a terrorist hub for the same reason.

After the final Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1982, the population of the Peninsula had to contend with issues pertaining to their group identity. Their tribal affiliations were too great to discounted, but their eagerness to be included in the larger Egyptian society was euphoric. But Cairo did so little to bring Sinai’s population, especially the Bedouins, any closer. With time, disillusionment grew into resentment, and eventually violence. They are angry, and have every right to feel that way.

As long as Cairo continues to view Sinai with suspension and mistrust, using the desert and its inhabitants as a platform for political opportunities to be exploited, thus carrying out one violent campaign after another to reassert the relevance of the army, these sad episodes will continue. The people of Sinai have suffered tremendously from neglect and poverty and now, extreme violence. Sisi’s promised campaign of yet more security solutions, will hardly ease Sinai’s burden, or bring an iota of hope to its disheartened people.

Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People’s History at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

More articles by:

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail