Category Archives: Indigenous Rights

This shit is really happening.

Good lord. I mean that literally. And by literally I mean as an incantation to someone or something to please, stop this from happening. Or maybe just cut out the bad bits, the stuff that actually kills people. The Hollywood way, as perceived by a seven year-old version of yours truly: innocuous A-Team jeeps flipping over and worst-marksmen-of-the-world gunfire. And if some anonymous border guard does have to get hurt, no more than a sprained ankle please, let there be less kin to wail and scream to the heavens in vicarious ligamental agony. As in, no one was injured in the writing of this book.

And yet, eerily, Egyptians, Israelis, and penumbrous groups are following the script. A year and a half after the revolution the battle still rages. In many ways, it hasn’t yet begun. The generals have sacrificed the big cheese, but the kidney stones are still there. Any nurse will tell you: stand back when old men prepare to pee. Meanwhile, somewhat less metaphorically, the Sinai/Israel border heats up. “We gave up this land, and for what?” Israelis lament. Egyptians clamor to amend the Camp David accords that prohibit their army from deploying on the peninsula in a meaningful way. The Bedouin tribes of the Sinai, not just neglected but actively discriminated against during the Mubarak years, claim to be on top of things. Eking a living from scrape-barrel tourism and yes, smuggling, the tribes have maintained a balance amongst themselves, maintaining a semblance security, tolerating and at times pushing back state authority. However, cracks are beginning to show.

The old generals, eager to show up their erstwhile foes and current holders of the scepter, didn’t have to look far for the new rulers’ achilles heel. Israeli contingency plans have long been drawn up. They too had rather see the Muslim Brotherhood gone. The Palestinians of Gaza meanwhile, kettled in and desperate, will do what kettled in and desperate people do. They will find a way. Wouldn’t you?

The dice are rolling. And man, this book is alive in a way I wish I entirely wished it wasn’t.

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Filed under Arab Spring, Cairo, democracy, Egypt, Indigenous Rights, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Revolution, seismic changes

The drums of war.

Tensions are running high in the region. Tautology aside, a volatile mix of lawlessness, the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and wider geopolitical rumblings keep everyone guessing on what’s next. The draw of milk and honey keep Ethiopian Jews flocking to the North, up through the Sinai like Mo’, as friends called him, once did, promised the end of the bondage of hunger and poverty. And so the demand for people smugglers, and the dough to be made undermines law and order on all sides of the border.

It isn’t a giant leap from a bit of moneymaking to politics. If you can smuggle people, you can smuggle weapons – exactly what some Palestinians groups in Gaza think they require to throw off their yoke. To be fair, it’s hard to envisage a successful sit-in against living in an open-air prison, staring at mainly unmanned gun turrets on all sides, if even fishing beyond 3 nautical miles is prohibited. An as good as hermetically sealed area no bigger than 360 square kilometers can and should be called a ghetto. But the best analogy for Gaza in 2012 is Guantanamo Bay, times 14.000. If you box in 1.4 million people, something’s gotta give. And the weakest link in the chain penning in the 99% unarmed, un-convicted and innocent civilians, is Sinai.

As the high-tech fence around Gaza extends southwards between the Israeli Negev and Egyptian Sinai deserts, that avenue too will close. The root causes meanwhile remain unaddressed. Sinai Bedouins stay marginalized, and Gaza’s population suffers from the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Will the Sinai, as so many observers predict, become a failed peninsula, home to Al-Qaeda offshoots and assorted scofflaws? Will Israel become tempted to quell rocket launchers and production facilities on the Egyptian side of the border, sparking what might be the end of the Camp David peace accords between both states? Could a kidnapping of Israeli tourists ignite an ever-shrinking fuse?

Sinai, the Egyptian thriller for all, explores just such a scenario. 

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Filed under Al-Qaeda, Arab Spring, Cairo, Egypt, Indigenous Rights, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, minorities, seismic changes

The Usual Suspects

If you are an armed group of any extrapolation, Sinai is the place to go. Everybody and their AK-47 toting moms go there. It’s what the kids do nowadays. The place is hot. Or so they say. And who are they, you may ask? Well, everybody and their mom, give or take. About 1000 Egyptian troops are currently engaged in Operation Eagle, aptly named, for if said bird of prey is known for one thing it’s reestablishing state control over rugged lands by means of checkpoints, tanks, helicopters and intensified ID controls.

Al-Qaeda has taken up residence in the Sinai. Or so media-security pundits say. A bunch of dudes in pickup trucks attacked a police station, passing out Al-Qaeda flyers and destroying a statue of Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor and signatory to the Israeli-Egyptian treaty that returned the peninsula to its rightful owner. Some point to the Bedouin, but the Bedouin point to former regime thugs smuggling drugs, weapons and other mischief. No, not Al-Qaeda, say others. These are merely Takfir Wal Hijra groups, folks who believe everyone but themselves are full of shit, Islam-wise, and hence subject to violent and, needless to say, righteous retribution.

Recently a mysterious suicide bomber blew himself up, along with three soldiers manning a checkpoint. No one has claimed the attack. Perhaps a case of very spontaneous human combustion. After an attack on Israeli security forces in Eilat last year, Israel has blamed Palestinians tunneling in and out of Sinai from Gaza. Some mused of establishing a security perimeter on Egyptian turf to ward off future shenanigans. Sources in Al-Arish suggest Muhammad Dahlan, security bigwig in Gaza prior to the Hamas takeover, in addition fallen out with his Fatah chums in the West Bank, might be roaming the area. Or at least some of his buddies.

And then we’re back to the Bedouins, whose brethren are currently being uprooted en masse from the Israeli Negev, and have always gotten a raw deal from the Egyptians. Plenty of reasons to be pissed off. Before the Israeli invasion in 1967 they had legal authority to maintain security within their own tribes in the Sinai. After Camp David all they got from the state was the baton and touristic development the benefits of which are largely siphoned off to Cairo. Will the new regime take their rightful demands for at least a piece of the cake into account? What role are they to play in the security architecture of the ‘new’ Sinai? Will the new regime countenance at least a semblance of indigenous rights like some generals have intimated they might?

In ‘Sinai’ the usual suspects are not quite what they seem. The hardcore Muslims are far from hardcore. Nor, strictly spoken, very Muslim. The new old regime is back to the bad old ways, or are they? And who is paying for those gleaming new hummers? Last but not least, the Bedouin find themselves in thrall to a native from another epoch. 

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Filed under Al-Qaeda, Arab Spring, Cairo, democracy, Egypt, Indigenous Rights, Middle East, Revolution, seismic changes