Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Egyptians? Why?

Yesterday there was a bloody clash on the Egyptian-Gaza border. An Egyptian policeman was killed, and there were a number of injured people on both sides- it's not clear how many. These are straightforward facts, as far as they are.

How should they be explained? What's going on? That's harder to know, first, because much of the data isn't accessible. So far as I can tell, no one - that means, NO ONE - has any access to the decision making process of the relevant Egyptians and Palestinians, nor can they even say who made any decision. A man was killed when both sides were using real firearms, and no-one has anything whatsoever to say about who gave which orders, what they thought they were doing, how they understood their situation, or any other part of the story. These things are of course crucial, and no explanation can even begin to approach accuracy without them, but hey, we've not got them, it would be too much of a bother to try, and anyway we've all got pre-existing templates with which to explain such matters so why worry?

Mondoweiss simply disregards the matter. They're interested in Gaza only in two scenarios: when Israel can be blamed, or even better, when Israel can be blamed but they're saving the situation. This case fits neither template, so it didn't happen. Better to blame Israel for that Jordanian-al-Quaida chap who killed seven CIA men. And yes, I understand that Mondoweiss, being a mere blog, doesn't need to cover everything - I certainly don't, either. Yet they're a blog with a large number of contributors, and their editorial choices are instructive.

The BBC doesn't offer any explanation, though its report does contain this odd sentence:
Egypt and Israel impose a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip, which Israel says is aimed at weakening Hamas.
People are being shot as the Egyptians impose a blockade, and the only context offered is why Israel does it.

The Guardian does the same slight-of-hand:

Ehab Ghussein, a Hamas spokesman, said frustration about Egypt's new underground wall was fuelling the protests. "There was anger, and that's because of what happened, especially about the wall and [Egypt preventing entry of] the people who are coming to stand with us," he said. Israel's strict blockade of Gaza, which has been in place for more than two years, prevents all exports and limits imports to a few humanitarian items. Egypt has also kept its one border crossing with Gaza, at Rafah, largely closed.

So it's Israel's blockade, with the Egyptians merely tagging along. Why? The Guardian explains:

Under pressure from the US and Israel, Egypt has started building a vast steel wall along its side of the Gaza border to prevent smuggling. Hundreds of smuggling tunnels dug by Palestinians reach into northern Egypt and supply Gaza with a wide range of products from food and clothing to animals and cars. Israel and the US have said they are concerned about weapons smuggling.

They Egyptians are puppets of the Israelis and Americans. Why a nation of 80 million debases itself in such a manner is unexplained, though there's the implication that the puppeteers have awesome powers; at least with the Americans this has a rational grounding. The Israelis, however? Do they control the world? And if so, haven't we seen that theme somewhere before?

The New York Times offers no explanation at all. There's this context:
The demonstration, organized by Hamas, protested Egypt’s refusal to allow international aid and solidarity missions into Gaza as well as Egypt’s construction of an underground barrier to obstruct smuggler tunnels. Those tunnels supply both goods and arms to Hamas and Gaza.
But no explanation why Egypt might be doing what it does.

Then there's Haaretz. Like everyone else, Zvi Barel has no specific information, he can only tell about the larger picture. Still, in spite of being on the left side of Haaretz, as I've documented in the past, he's first and foremost an expert.
Egypt's stance does not arise from its desire to help the Israeli siege on Gaza or to respond to the United States' demand to prevent smuggling. It is intended to show both Hamas and Syria that just as it has the power to open the border crossings at will and relieve the siege, so it can twist Hamas' arm.
And also this:
Egypt is interested in Palestinian reconciliation and wishes to set up a Palestinian unity government. Egypt has assured Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas of its support if such a government is formed, mainly because it does not want to be responsible for the Gaza Strip. But Cairo is fed up with Hamas' foot-dragging and Tehran's meddling. In this Egypt is assisted by Saudi Arabia, which gave Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal an ultimatum to decide whether he is running an Arab organization or is under the "patronage of a foreign power," i.e. Iran.
Read the whole thing, as Glenn says. You begin to see why Israelis' understanding of the world is dramatically different from that of everyone else.


Morey Altman said...

There's been no love between Egypt and the Gazans for decades. There have been rumours floating around for years that a massive 'intifadah' occurred in Gaza in the 1950's but was quickly, and very violently, put down by Egyptian troops.

Here's an interesting quote:

Sir John Troutbeck, British Middle East Office in Cairo, noted in cables to superiors (1948-49) that the refugees (in Gaza) have no bitterness against Jews, but harbor intense hatred toward Egyptians:

[They] "express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against the Americans or ourselves) they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states. "We know who our enemies are," they will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their home. . . . I even heard it said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the Israelis if they were to come in and take the district over."

Perhaps not ;)

SantaMoniker said...

I suggest hat the convoy turn around and take its mix-masters, washing machines, trucks, TV sets, video games and the other essentials it want to deliver to Gaza to Darfur instead. There may even be some food on those truck that the Darfurians could use.

Yaacov said...

If they were interested in helping needy people there are millions of them in Cairo alone. I don't think that was their point, however.

Victor said...

Morey, can you provide a source for that quote? Thanks.

NormanF said...

The Egyptian national interest in weakening Hamas overrides feelings of pan-Arab brotherhood. That is the obvious explanation for what the Egyptians are doing along their Gaza border. The conventional politically correct wisdom is all Arabs think alike, all Arabs automatically align their interests with the radicals and all Arabs have a shared kinship. Its not even true. And Egypt's behavior is a refutation of the just expressed myth.

Victor said...

"Masri" (Egyptian) is a derogatory term among Palestinians. Only a poor family would marry their daughter off to one. Pan-Arab nationalism is long dead. There is pan-Arab ethnicism, just as there is pan-Slavic ethnicism, but this is insufficient basis for political solidarity.

Joe in Australia said...

"Masri" (Egyptian) is a derogatory term among Palestinians.

Hmm. That's the best evidence I've yet seen for the argument that the Palestinian Arabs are descended from Jews. Egypt is, after all, the one place that Jews aren't supposed to live in.

Victor said...

It's not for that reason. The Egyptians are not true Arabs. They're more like Africans. They have darker skin (which in Palestinian culture is a negative quality), and generally are destitute (land ownership in Palestinian culture is a positive quality).

The disdain for Masris, as it is for Nouris (Bedouin) is not analytical, however, it is visceral. Nor should it be overplayed - masris may be poor and brown, but the Yehud are the enemy.