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From the Southern Sinai : من جنوب سيناء

Uncanny timing, as usual: I arrived in Egypt via Nwaiba' on the maritime on the 28th of January, 2011. Riots had already begun a few days earlier, but they didn't seem too threatening, so I proceeded with my travel plans. I was met at the seaport by the Bedouin who gave me a ride last time I was here. We bargained his fee, and off we headed to Dahab, a city name 'gold'. As soon as I arrived to the Ghazalla hotel, I was told that the Internet was down in all of Egypt. Social media networks had been cut off for a couple of days, but I knew that already.

Within 24 hours of arriving to Sinai, the riots started intensifying. Aljazeera was blocked on satellite TV. The riots spread to Alexandria, and Aswan. Some even say turbulence happened as far as Sa'eed a few days later. Mubarak was MIA for several days, then gave a speech that the whole world must have witnessed. He did not say anything enlightening. I only got a part of his speech, late night at store in a shanty area of town. After hearing me speak in Arabic, the fallah tending the cash turned to me. Wearing a turban and gallabiyah, and with a black spot on his forehead from praying, he smiled and asked me if I was Lebanese. I smiled back and said 'Jordanian-Palestinian'. He frowned and turned to the TV again.

For a few days, the news was contradictory ... They said the airports were closed, then open. Shuttle plains were available to take people back to their countries for free. I did not check with the Jordanian Embassy or the Americans to get the update. The wise thing might have been to cut the trip short, forget about the return stub to Aqaba via sea, and buy myself a plane ticket back to Amman from Sharm El Sheikh. But it wasn't clear to me if it was safer to stay put, or travel. I decided to stay, and maybe even extend my trip ... it was all too exciting.

From the Sinai, for the next few days ... I won't be reporting news, but relaying the here-say of the people, and the stories of people I'm meeting here.

Flashback: January 28 - February 1st- No Internet.

It wasn't the fact that text messages were blocked across Egypt or that the banks were closed .... it was the blocked internet that made the situation seem grave. Much speculation happened during that time, but people here were not worried about the riots in Egypt. In Sinai, it was a different kind of battle. I came to understand that later.

We didn't have riots, but the banks were closed here too, and the post office was out of order. The police left town when protesters burnt police stations elsewhere, but they returned later, forming a coalition with the Bedouins. In the deserted streets of Dahab at night, I saw a man standing outside the Cairo Bank in the square. He looked shady, and I could not figure out if he was the guard or a robber waiting for the street to clear. This felt symbolic of the state at large.

The check-points between south Sinai and the rest of Egypt were - and are still- under tight control. For a couple of nights, the Bedouins of the South and the police joined forces and blocked entrances to the city. I saw a truck loaded with car tires heading to the check point. I assumed they were making a blockade to prevent the prison escapees from entering. But, as I later learnt, the prisoners were not a threat to us here; it was the Northern Sinai Bedouins. Here-say: they had decided to take advantage of the chaos in the rest of the country and invade the south. Their southern brethren have been getting all the money from tourism, and they wanted their share. This is the version we got here in the South, I'm sure the Northerners have their own story. But so it was, as Egypt was rioting for new government, the Sinai was doing its tribal dealings. Meanwhile, I sat at the sea side with the boys, smoking, and watching them play cards.

We were told that the sheikhs from the South met with those of the North, and they found some kind of agreement. Meanwhile, the flow of goods into the Southern Sinai was still halted. Fruits and vegetables dwindled for a few days, and the gas ran out, people were thinking we're heading towards a food shortage. But then, a few days later, after internet came back on, things seemed to flow in again. Some brands of cigarettes are still missing, and there are no re-fill cards for cell phones anymore, but the gas stations are open, and although ATM's have a 500 LE withdrawal limit per day, they are still spitting out money.

They say that the Egyptian military entered the Sinai, breaking the agreement with Israel.
The US is supporting the people of Egypt, but Israel wants Mubarak to stay- since he was there for the peace agreement. According to Haaretz, Israel reinforced its military in preparation of refugees storming its border with Egypt, or extremists taking advantage of the chaos and infiltrating.
Egyptian TV implied that the weapons with the escaped prisoners came from Hezbulllah, thus suggesting fitna from the 'outside,' and pointing the finger to Southern Lebanon. A commentator dismissed Al-Jazeera as a Satanic satellite station. "The damage al-jazeera caused in the past week has been worse than Israel's in the Suez war."
Yesterday, the Israel-Egypt pipeline was blasted, damaging the branch that was connected to Jordan. They say it was an 'outside' operation ...




Be safe my adventurous friend. The sky is now blue and a gold/orange light is lighting up the trees here. Miss you but saving space for your well earned R&R.

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