Egyptian Wikileaks: The Gaza Wall

A bunch of as-yet-unreleased Wikileaks cables have been shared with al-Masri al-Youm and other Egyptian newspapers, which will start releasing them today and over the rest of the week. 

For English coverage check out al-Masri al-Youm's site, which already has stories about how the Gaza-Egypt wall is due to be completed this month:

“The MOD had frequently discussed this project with us since the beginning of the year, but only recently received the corrugated steel sheets,” reads the document. “It is unknown, however, if the wall will be effective at deterring smuggling in the long-run, as the steel sheets are basic construction-grade material that can be cut using a tool like a blow torch.”

The document references international, regional and local press reports that criticize the wall for representing Egyptian support for Israeli security, describing them as “erroneously stating the wall is a US-funded project.”

The document also reveals the US has provided technical support for the installation of the tunnel detection system, which was due to be finished by the US Army Corps of Engineers and handed over to the Egyptian military in April 2010..

I've long believed the wall financing issue was set up to create US deniability that it was financing the wall. The cable says it cost $40m — not much compared to the $1bn and more of US military aid — and its most expensive technological component, the detection system, was US provided. So yes, it is US-backed and financed.

In another cable, US diplomats get warnings from Sinai Bedouins that the wall will radicalize the peninsula. More to come...

 

Rocketman

Who's firing rockets from Sinai? asks Michael Dunn, and it's a good question. The Egyptians, saying their border with Israel is heavily monitored, first said no but then implied Palestinian groups were in fact launching them from Sinai by launching a sweep. The Jordanians, who are on the receiving end of many of these rockets that appear to aimed at the Israeli port of Eilat, claim to have proof they're coming from Egypt but haven't divulged it. The Israelis blame "the Khamas" and Hamas calls Egypt's allegation that Palestinian groups may be involved "unprofessional" and without evidence. The speculation in the Cairo papers — based on security sources — that a Palestinian group with an indirect affiliation with Hamas may be responsible.

It's all rather confusing, but assuming the rockets were fired from Sinai there is another alternative: that we are seeing the revival of the Palestinian / Bedouin groups that operated in the Sinai over the last decade and are believed to be responsible for the 2004-2006 wave of bombings of tourist destinations in the Peninsula. Or a new radicalization of purely Bedouin groups in the area. Or Palestinian militants going into Sinai from Gaza through the tunnels. That's for the whodunnit. There's also the question of where did they get these rockets from? Are they part of the arsenal allegedly being smuggled into Gaza from Egypt, or smuggled from Gaza into Sinai? No matter where you stand on the question of the anti-smuglling wall, this incident will lend credence to the arguments that having Sinai as a trans-shipment venue for weapons to Gaza adds proliferation risks to Egypt itself.

Also, although it's an outlier, perhaps one should not dismiss the idea that these rockets may not be unrelated to the general unrest among Sinai's Bedouin population, which has seen disgruntled groups block roads and attack tourism sites in the last month. Egypt's Sinai problem has been a slowly brewing mix of problems for a good decade now, and the regional situation only adds to it.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Mosaad Abu Fajr, a voice for Sinai

Sinai writer and blogger Mosaad Abu Fajr, who was recently released after three years in prison:

My experience as a detainee is infinite, it is like fate which one has to adjust himself to. The conditions in Egyptian prisons are unendurable. The way inmates are received is cruel. I was not exposed to sunlight until my family came to visit me. We remained confined in our cells for 20 days, and were only allowed out within the one meter that separates the cells. The atmosphere there is filled with the odors of death and silence, and empty of any signs of hope.

Worst of all is the process of searching the prisons. At such times, we are treated as objects or animals rather than humans. Officers goad us with their sticks, forcing us to put our hands on our heads as they drive us out of our cells. Then we have to gather all our belongings into one pile and spend a whole day searching for them. These conditions do not suit Egypt’s name and history.

As for me, I was put in a cell with inmates sentenced to life. Imagine a cell originally devoted to six inmates but containing more than 60, with prisoners sleeping in shifts.

Some interesting stuff happening in Sinai in recent weeks — notably Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly's meeting with tribal elders. About the time the bull was seized by the horns: Egypt had allowed this situation to fester for far too long, largely because the faults of the Interior Ministry (brutality, etc.) went unpunished. Al-Adly deserves to be sacked many times over for various things — the general decline of police work and torture epidemic, his lackluster counter-terrorism policies, his inability or unwillingness to reform a central state institution — but his handling of Sinai may be the most serious crime of all, from a national security point of view. His political longevity is one of the great mysteries of today's Egypt.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 07.31.09

الإسلاميون - الإخوان وسيناريوهات المستقبل | "The Muslim Brothers and the scenarios of the future" Morocco challenges Mideast Holocaust mind-set - Yahoo! News | King makes speech on Holocaust, also on Jewish community in Morocco. Bédouins oubliés du Nakab, par Joseph Algazy (Le Monde diplomatique) | Anti-Arab discrimination and beatings by Israeli police, and the situation of Israel's Bedouins. 300,000 Israeli settlers in West Bank: report - Yahoo! News | "As of June 30, there were 304,569 settlers living in the Palestinian territory, an increase of 2.3 percent since the start of the year" Counterterrorism Blog: NEFA Foundation: The Muslim Brotherhood Online | MB document on use of internet. UPDATED: Levin lifts hold on State Near East official, bureau makes senior appointments | The Cable | Jeffrey Feltman to finally be confirmed at head of NEA.
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Links January 15th and January 19th

Automatically posted links for January 15th through January 19th:

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