Hundreds of Israelis used to spend Passover in Sinai but this year that’s very unlikely to happen and Egypt suffers as a result.
Every year the government warns Israelis to avoid Sinai during Passover. Friends and relatives worry that they will become the next Ghalid Shalit, which is silly given there are now zero Israeli captives, but the fear is real for a people who have always felt surrounded. Even so, many intrepid Israelis in the past made the journey south, where they stayed in small sustainable beach shacks from Dahab to Sharm el-Sheikh, eating local food, living in harmony with the Bedouins – if only for a week. This is as close as Egypt gets to eco-tourism, but this year, it is very unlikely that even the most courageous Israelis will cross the Taba border into Sinai.
The revolution has changed Egypt. Instead of giving its residents a new lease on life, a chance to fix past mistakes (such as haphazard development and poor environmental regulation), it has created more divisions among those on either end of the political spectrum.
An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has wiped out thousands of livestock, food prices are high, energy supplies are scarce despite a new oil field in the Gulf of Suez and muggings and kidnappings are on the rise.
This is particularly true in Cairo, where street lights are dimming, and along the Sinai peninsula, one of the most popular tourism areas in the country. Although Americans, Russians, and other foreigners might still be willing to take the risk that a visit might entail, Israelis are very unlikely to bring their business to Egypt this year.
It was always kind of ironic that the Israelis would head back into the territory from which they were supposed to be commemorating their hard-earned escape from slavery. And it had to have been a sore spot for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who each year send out a press release describing how religious Jews should celebrate this important holiday.
But this is actually a depressing development in the relationship between residents of the countries, not to mention the economic strain that continues to plunge Egypt deeper and deeper into trouble.
Forget the government for one minute and think only of every day people. People like you and me who may not love Iranian politics but we would be hard pressed to dislike a normal citizen of that country.
As Sustainable as it Comes
Despite longstanding political fractions, every day Israelis interacted harmoniously with the Bedouins, if not other Egyptians, at least once a year. They brought their families and their good will and left politics at home. They also brought a nice chunk of cash that was injected into the local economy.
Hundreds of Israelis used to flood across the Taba border. In fact, it was almost impossible to go anywhere along the peninsula during Pesach (Passover) where there were no Israelis. But this year, they will be a rare sight. And the rest can’t be blamed for heading elsewhere when so many reports of trouble have emerged from the region in the last few months.
In January, the Chief of Police told Al Jazeera that they have gotten Northern Sinai under control. But he can’t be trusted. Instead, the popular Egyptian commentator Sandmonkey claims it will take at least 10 years for Egypt’s police force to become adequately dispossessed of their old bad habits and trained again as effective peacekeepers.
In the meantime, Egypt’s troubles grow thicker.
Image credit: Moses Parts Red Sea, Shutterstock