Hello, this is a companion update to Egypt, relating to the Sinai:
Where Moses Walked
Excerpt from The Mummy’s Curse by Christopher Hitchens of The New Statesman (1974)
“What separates man from the animals?”
Several of the men around me already start to laugh, so common is the joke in this part of the world. The would-be-comedian raises his hand to deliver his punch-line, and I can briefly see the number tattoo on his wrist.
“The Suez Canal!”
An international cadre of throats universally chortle, and I must confess I found myself doing likewise. I wasn’t proud of myself for laughing, but I found the atmosphere releasing me of inhibition – in addition to the brandy. I was in an open air restaurant in Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, a part of the world that has found itself at the heart of a new and bitter dispute between the Israeli government and the Muslim Brotherhood (I deliberately abstain from saying ‘the Egyptian government’ because the Egyptian government doesn’t run anything – it is an anarchy parading as a dictatorship). Granted, it’s very easy to fall on the side of the Israelis in this dispute, owing to the obvious injustices towards the Jews in the last few decades alone – one Arab friend from Lebanon even told me, “The Israelis are cruel but they are sane; these Egyptians may be Arabs, but they are cruel and in
sane, so I want nothing to do with them.” But I wanted to see for myself what had become of the Sinai in recent years, since her annexation by Israel and subsequent settlement by Jewish settlers.
After landing in Port Fuad, I could see right along the Suez Canal, the reason for one of the ghastlier examples of Anglo-Franco Imperialism in this century, fool though Nasser was. The Suez Canal Company has gained an infamy in Egypt, to the extent that even volunteering to work there is seen as an invitation to be entirely shunned by all society. Thankfully for the Company, the recent war has led to one side of the Canal, at least, be firmly on friendly territory. I was wise enough myself not to venture into Egypt proper; I was no fool as to the response an Englishman would get, Syndicalist or not – they don’t even sell beer there.
Very quickly, I noticed that the grunt workers in the facility had a skin much too pale for this latitude of the world. When I asked of them, the local Englishman who works for the Company proudly informs me that they were Jews – Russian Jews. They were some of the luckier ones who had escaped discriminate Communist killing as well as the indiscriminate national killing in the Civil War. I was invited to ask them about their experiences in Russia but I turned it down – the world already knows what happened to them, and I have no wish to have them endure a minute’s memory of what happened to them anymore than necessary. They did the basic work at the canal sight, flooding and loading when called on to do it. This has led to a surge in activity for the Company, giving more relevance to the colonial anachronism.
Of all the interesting experiences the region had to offer, one in particular caught my eye – a camel ride to the top of Mount Sinai. Granted, the real Mount Sinai bears little resemblance to the one mentioned in the Torah, but it seemed to be something noteworthy in a part of the world that, for all the ravings of Cairo, is not a particularly interesting place (even with the Egyptian artefacts being smuggled into the region at an astonishing rate to escape potential obliteration by the Brotherhood). For the most part, it is completely empty, and the incoming settlement of mostly Russian Jews is concentrated on a thin line of areas mostly along the coasts (particularly the oil-rich south). Therefore, something like that seemed to be an exciting endeavour in the midst of such cloying emptiness.
When I got to the base, I saw an Israeli archaeological team begin work around the mountain, looking for evidence of historical Jewish settlement. The Israeli archaeologists are among the best in the world, and have provided invaluable insight into casting doubt on Biblical myths in defiance of the goals of the Israeli state. They have found a goldmine of history in the Sinai Peninsula, saving not just Jewish history, but Muslim history as well. Among them, I noticed that one was wearing a cross, and that he was of a slightly darker complexion. As it turned out, he was a Christian Arab.
I stated that I was quite surprised as a foreigner to the sight of a team of Jews and an Arab get along – but he was quick to inform me. During the initial conquest of the Sinai, most of Sinai’s population fled, turning places like Port Fuad into ghost cities. However, this was mostly the country’s Muslim population, fleeing in fear at what the Israelis were going to do to them. Many Christians, however, stayed, having become so alienated from the Egyptian state due to the actions of Qutd and the Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention their full-time supporters and part-time thugs, who launched a nationwide campaign of intimidation against the Christian minority. Many Christians simply shrugged, thinking it was all the same at the end of the day. As a result, despite being roughly 15-20% of the pre-war Sinai population, of the remaining Arab population, Christians now represent more than half. In a bitter twist, they now have the right to vote, walk outside without a hijab, join a union and a host of other basic rights non-existent to Arabs throughout the Middle East. Though at heart, he says, he would wish the Sinai remain part of Egypt, he sees no way with those, “shoe-eating, sons of whores destroying my people in Cairo – may they burn in Hell.”
With that, I got on the camel.
As I settled down in the soothing bar just outside in the Dabab night, a group of Israeli men came in, laughing and joking. When they knew I was an Englishman, they invited me in to their group, as the leader of this group himself was an Englishman, with the reassuringly Middle Class name of ‘Ben’.
Ben had an interesting life – he had not only served in the 1948 War, but in the Suez War and the Israeli-Egypt War just six years ago. When I asked him if anything had changed in all that time, he was quite sure to tell me.
“Back in 1948, when everything was up in the air, when I was some fresh-faced recruit who didn’t have a clue what he was doing, none of us did, the Arabs put up a fight – we still kicked their asses, but it wasn’t a roll-over. In the Suez War, I played the role of the grizzled veteran – I didn’t really understand why we were there but we all hated Nasser, so we didn’t care. Didn’t see too much combat but that was okay. Then the last war happened and I was an officer. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We were sending in tanks to deal with guys whose clothes were literally falling to pieces. They had this so-called ‘Army of God’ too, and they literally just charged us across open desert and got slaughtered. This wasn’t to mention the air-war – I don’t remember a single Egyptian plane in the whole conflict. There were companies I knew with a enemy casualty ratio of like 60:1, since the Egyptians simply didn’t know what they were doing because they killed all their best generals, had these horrifically outdated Russian weapons and they had no ammo or supplies either. I heard stories that Egyptian troops had to beg local houses to give them food because their officers couldn’t give them any. It was like a theoretical exercise – literally everything about the Egyptians in that war was a joke. I know it may be a cliché, but I really do almost feel sorry for them.”
There is little hatred of the Egyptians in Dabab's Jewish community – only mockery, especially owing to Egypt’s own turmoil. Since the previous war, the Egyptian government has been cannibalizing itself at an alarming rate. Yet the zombie somehow trundles on, absorbing each brutal blow, each humiliation, all the while enduring events that would eliminate any dictatorship before it. Why? I have only one answer - Egypt is a Mummy state, its rags only barely able to hide its rotting corpse, and her animator is Anti-Semitism. Egypt is no longer a country with a party, but a party with a country, which it has incidentally destroyed. Only through dredging up the most ancient of prejudices with the modern nationalist outrage over the Sinai has the Brotherhood held on, but even that isn’t sure anymore. Recent strikes in Alexandria have forced the government to relent on further cuts in rationing – they had better hope the deals with their fellow Arab nations can alleviate the food situation, and fast. I ask my new-found friends if they suspect the Brotherhood’s government will fall.
“Who cares?” replies Ben. “Whoever comes in will just be the same nonsense, Brotherhood or not. They’ll just complain about the Sinai for a thousand years. Doesn’t mean anything to us. We aren’t leaving. We survived the Germans, the most ruthlessly efficient nation in the world. Yeah, I’m not afraid of these bumbling idiots in Cairo. Not in the least because they seem to want a Civil War in their own country.”
I can’t fault his logic; indeed, no Jew in the Sinai seems to be afraid of the possibility of Egypt coming back for vengeance. When I raised the prospect of Egypt retaking the Sinai, they laughed so hard that they gave me a bevy of free drinks; I was quite taken at the idea, though Ben’s prophecy of turmoil in Egypt hung in my mind, not in the least due to Egypt’s actions against her Christian minority.
The Christians have become the next target of the regime, desperate to find enemies to support itself, and more importantly, dividing the already shattered opposition. While the regime has supposedly moderated itself by speaking more with her fellow Arab dictatorships, the campaign of persecution against the Coptic Christians, a community that long pre-dates the Muslim presence in Egypt, has stepped into high gear. With no Jews to persecute after Qutd and his fellow cretins expelled Egypt’s Jewish population after both Holocausts had become public knowledge, a new target is in his reach. It is reported the regime has a charming new slogan in some quarters: “Christians to Beirut! Jews to the grave!”
Western observers have often referred to ‘The Second Exodus’ to refer to the astonishing decline of Christianity within the country. Though I don’t like the comparison of the verifiable tragedy occurring in Egypt today with the historically questionable story of the Old Testament, the sentiment is accurate. While there was an initial surge of Christians leaving the country, mostly the Middle Class and secular elements of the country who were rightfully terrified of what the Brotherhood would do, the numbers started to fall, until the regime saw that dividing its own population was a magnificent way to distract from their utter inability to keep a functioning country. On an almost daily basis, some spluttering buffoon of a party spokesman calls Christians the ‘descendants of apes and pigs’, and the Christians of Egypt are well aware of what happened to the Jews. A torrent of emigration began, mostly to the West, but also Lebanon, and it has been a crippling blow to Egypt’s economy, not to mention culture. Devoid of one of the more prosperous rungs of society, Egypt has paid the price with living standards closer to Oman than Israel; not that the leadership cares. Recently, the Brotherhood called a census in Egypt, finding that a mere 7% of the country was now Christian (with an estimated percentage in the Nasser days of 15-20%), with that number expected to fall further still in the coming years. The leadership called a day of celebration at the news that ‘Egypt has never been more Muslim than today’. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people was praised up and down the country by the party hacks - literally celebrating their own nation's suicide.
It won’t stop with the Christians, of course. Once the Christians have been expelled, next will come the Shia, then the other Muslims who disagree with the Brotherhood, and then members of the Brotherhood who disagree with other members of the Brotherhood, until the streets of Egypt’s capital are as empty as her deserts; perhaps then, the nation will have finally ended her suffering, at least.