Friday, October 15, 2004


Attacks in the Sinai

Danny Rabinowitz of Ha'aretz investigates the possibility of local Bedouin assistance in the recent bombings in the Sinai at the Taba Hilton and two other tourist joints. Having been in the Taba Hilton and driving along the coast there to Dahab, I remember all the half-built hotels jutting out toward the water all along the way. I'm not sure whether those hotels were in the process of being built or whether they had been abandoned halfway through because of the negative effects on tourism of the intifada, but from Rabinowitz's article, it seems that if they haven't been finished yet, it's doubtful that they will be. The tourists from Israel have stopped altogether and it is doubtful that others will fill the void.
"Business is dead," says the Egyptian manager of a small hotel in almost a whisper.

"This bomb destroyed thousands of homes in Sinai," says a Sudanese cook at another place.

"It's quiet here, isn't it?" smiles a Bedouin from the Mazina tribe, waving his hand at the empty road and the abandoned hotels. "For years it hasn't been this quiet here. And it will go on. In a little while it will be so quiet here that you'll be able to hear our children wailing at home: `Daddy, Daddy, food, food.'"
The role of tourism on the local economy leads many to say that a local would never have helped the terrorists, whether supplying dynamite, knowledge of the area, or the get-away. But others are not so sure that the Bedouin community is so single-minded in its desire to maintain things as they are.
My interlocutor also offered a socioeconomic explanation for his thesis. "All that talk about how all the Bedouin here are benefiting from the tourism industry is a lot of nonsense. The owners of the bungalow camps and the restaurants are making big money. And the people who work for them are also living well. But they are just part of the tribe. There are many Bedouin who have not succeeded, or who did not get into tourism in time, and now all the good stretches of beach are used up and all that is left to them is to stand off to the side and see how the big money is flowing to other people. Maybe they don't hate Israelis or Europeans, but what do they care about harming tourism? Especially if someone convinces them that immoral and licentious things, and who knows what else, happen there.

"They also see that the Egyptian government is cooperating with the owners of the huts. Unlike with the big hotels, they received land almost for free - they don't pay a single cent in taxes, they build without restrictions and they are having a great time. As far as the oppressed of the tribe go, the state is part of social injustice. And then abetting terror that will also harm the state is reasonable as far as they are concerned. Do they need anything more?"
Of course there is no answer yet and either way the damage is done. Still, this article offers a detailed attempt to get at the dynamic that is at work in the Sinai, and manages to do so in a beautifully written, though depressing, way.

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