copy Excellent Adventures in Egypt

Enter here to share Joni's adventures living and working in Cairo courtesy of the U.S. Fulbright cultural exchange program. Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. - Mahatma Ghandi

10/09/2004

Red Sea tourism bombings

Terrible news from the Sinai. Folks I've talked to are especially upset about such actions taking place on Egyptian soil. “Whoever did this,” said one man, “we will find they were not Egyptian.” Most people here strongly believe that visitors to Egypt and politics between countries should be kept quite separate - even with Israel. This attitude stems from two sources: the long-standing tradition of Egyptian hospitality, in which any person is to be made welcome regardless of religion, ethnicity, country of origin, etc., and the strong contemporary interest in tourism as an industry providing jobs and revenues for economic betterment. Sadly, we can expect a dip in tourism not only in the Red Sea but throughout the region as a result of these bombings. The other response I hear to this and related terrorist acts (like last week’s kidnapping of 5 Egyptian telecommunication workers in Iraq) is that these are completely un-Islamic acts. The Quran specifically forbids killing without just cause, and the slaughter of innocents guarantees you a place in hell. Most folks see these actions as the work of crazy people who are using (and mis-using) Islam. Others believe the Al Jazeera line that the Bush administration has hired private companies to act as spies and carry out these actions while blaming them on Islamic terrorists. I point out that this policy would not serve Bush’s interests at all, especially right now, since the administration is entirely focused on getting itself re-elected (in which, god-willing, they will fail). But violently attacking innocents is so far outside the mainstream Islamic worldview that some folks have trouble believing that any Muslim could possibly be doing them – so there must be some kind of secret conspiracy to explain what’s going on. I think this perspective is at the root of the difference in worldviews between the Muslim world and the US on the conflict in Israel. Muslims see thousands of innocent Palestinians being slaughtered everyday by a regime acting outside the bounds of international law and humanitarian norms, with no hint of censure from the US. Why doesn’t the US condemn Israel as well as the Palestinian terrorist groups? Why doesn’t the US care about the lives of innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of this conflict? What happened to the US’ role as an even-handed broker between these parties, putting pressure on both Arafat and Sharon to stop the violence and bring resolution to this conflict? It will be interesting to see Mubarak’s response to the Red Sea terrorist attack from this side of the Atlantic. Egypt has been taking a very active role in the Israel/Palestine conflict, both in the immediate crisis in Gaza (which folks in the West don’t seem to see as a “crisis”) and in peacemaking overall. In my view, Mubarak is presently trying to protect Egypt’s interests (Gaza borders Egypt) and step into the vacuum left by the Bush administration’s policy of ignoring or tacitly blessing anything the Sharon government does. This doesn’t suit the interests of the radical terrorists, who – like our own Timothy McVeigh – seem mostly focused on venting their rage through death and destruction at any vulnerable target. I would very much like to eavesdrop on the back room discussions among career diplomats in the region right now.

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