Kidnappings in Nubia

An unknown gang has kidnapped tourists exploring the Western Desert near Aswan:

 
"Up to 15 people, including 11 foreign tourists, have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Italian foreign ministry and Egyptian security sources. 

The Italian foreign ministry confirmed on Monday that at least five Italian nationals were among those taken near the border with Sudan.

The Egyptian tourism ministers said that the other people seized were five Germans, four Egyptians and one Romanian.

"This is a gang act [by] masked men," Zoheir Garrana, the minister, said, adding that talks were under way on a ransom to release the abductees."

Although it's easy to jump to conclusions when the Israeli government recently issued a warning that Israeli tourists were being targeted for kidnappings in Sinai, this is very far away from Sinai and may simply be a criminal gang, considering they're asking for ransom. Of course that does not rule out the possibility that some violent political group (Islamist or otherwise) is trying to fundraise through kidnappings, which would mark the return of organized militant political violence in Upper Egypt. But I personally doubt it, but this kind of criminal activity is bad news for Egypt and a sign that more attention should be paid to the porous border with Sudan.

Not to make light of this, but I am reminded of The Tragedy of the Korosko, a nice little novella by Arthur Conan Doyle about a kidnapping in the same area. Here's the bit where the eclectic group of Western tourists get kidnapped:

 
The travellers, nestling up against one another, had awaited, each after his own fashion, the coming of the Arabs. The Colonel, with his hands back in his trouser-pockets, tried to whistle out of his dry lips. Belmont folded his arms and leaned against a rock, with a sulky frown upon his lowering face. So strangely do our minds act that his three successive misses, and the tarnish to his reputation as a marksman, was troubling him more than his impending fate. Cecil Brown stood erect, and plucked nervously at the up-turned points of his little prim moustache. Monsieur Fardet groaned over his wounded wrist. Mr. Stephens, in sombre impotence, shook his head slowly, the living embodiment of prosaic law and order. Mr. Stuart stood, his umbrella still over him, with no expression upon his heavy face, or in his staring brown eyes. Headingly lay with that china-white cheek resting motionless upon the stones. His sun-hat had fallen off, and he looked quite boyish with his ruffled yellow hair and his un-lined, clean-cut face. The dragoman sat upon a stone and played nervously with his donkey-whip. So the Arabs found them when they reached the summit of the hill. 

And then, just as the foremost rushed to lay hands upon them, a most unexpected incident arrested them. From the time of the first appearance of the Dervishes the fat clergyman of Birmingham had looked like a man in a cataleptic trance. He had neither moved nor spoken. But now he suddenly woke at a bound into strenuous and heroic energy. It may have been the mania of fear, or it may have been the blood of some Berserk ancestor which stirred suddenly in his veins; but he broke into a wild shout, and, catching up a stick, he struck right and left among the Arabs with a fury which was more savage than their own. One who helped to draw up this narrative has left it upon record that, of all the pictures which have been burned into his brain, there is none so clear as that of this man, his large face shining with perspiration, and his great body dancing about with unwieldy agility, as he struck at the shrinking, snarling savages. Then a spear-head flashed from behind a rock with a quick, vicious, upward thrust, the clergyman fell upon his hands and knees, and the horde poured over him to seize their unresisting victims. Knives glimmered before their eyes, rude hands clutched at their wrists and at their throats, and then, with brutal and unreasoning violence, they were hauled and pushed down the steep winding path to where the camels were waiting below. The Frenchman waved his unwounded hand as he walked. “_Vive le Khalifa! Vive le Madhi!” he shouted, until a blow from behind with the butt-end of a Remington beat him into silence.

And now they were herded in at the base of the Abousir rock, this little group of modern types who had fallen into the rough clutch of the seventh century—for in all save the rifles in their hands there was nothing to distinguish these men from the desert warriors who first carried the crescent flag out of Arabia. The East does not change, and the Dervish raiders were not less brave, less cruel, or less fanatical than their forebears. They stood in a circle, leaning upon their guns and spears, and looking with exultant eyes at the dishevelled group of captives. They were clad in some approach to a uniform, red turbans gathered around the neck as well as the head, so that the fierce face looked out of a scarlet frame; yellow, untanned shoes, and white tunics with square brown patches let into them. All carried rifles, and one had a small discoloured bugle slung over his shoulder. Half of them were negroes—fine, muscular men, with the limbs of a jet Hercules; and the other half were Baggara Arabs—small, brown, and wiry, with little, vicious eyes, and thin, cruel lips. The chief was also a Baggara, but he was a taller man than the others, with a black beard which came down over his chest, and a pair of hard, cold eyes, which gleamed like glass from under his thick, black brows. They were fixed now upon his captives, and his features were grave with thought. Mr. Stuart had been brought down, his hat gone, his face still flushed with anger, and his trousers sticking in one part to his leg. The two surviving Soudanese soldiers, their black faces and blue coats blotched with crimson, stood silently at attention upon one side of this forlorn group of castaways.

As you can see, it has plenty of full-on Victorian racism and very Anglo depictions of the French as surrender monkeys -- a very good example of where the Bush administration gets its worldview. Despite this, I think it's ripping yarn and a good example of Doyle's works outside of Holmesiana.

Again, I mention this because it crossed my mind, and naturally wish for the speedy return of the hostages to their families.
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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.