Friday, July 29, 2005

Looking at Egypt

Those who have the stamina are directed to a lengthy, articulate, inciteful post mortem of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings by Baheyya, whose blog is one of the best-written I have found, not only in Egypt, but anywhere. She is especially complimentary to reporter Anthony Shadid, providing links.

The big question now is whether the fallout from the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings will dampen the democracy momentum, or at least cramp the opposition’s room for manoeuvre. It’s a serious concern, but I don’t see the latest terrorist attacks giving the regime any new lease on life, or even much sympathy. Instead, everyone I know is talking about the security forces’ basic incompetence, about a disreputable Interior Minister who’s apparently immune from accountability, and about the suppressed grievances of Sinai’s Bedouin. It’s no secret that Egypt’s Interior Ministry has a horrible reputation, one it had the chance to salvage by showing some professionalism in the Sharm investigations. Instead, we got conflicting statements, imprecise and later retracted assignations of culpability to Pakistani nationals, and more concern with ferrying the president about the crime scenes than sealing them off for forensic investigators. People are drawing the inevitable comparisons between British police detaining only a handful of people in the wake of the London bombings while Egypt’s round up dozens. As I listened to the premature babblings of Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and Sinai governor Mustafa Afifi, and heard about the expected scapegoating of Sinai police chiefs, I saw in microcosm the basic problem of a dysfunctional regime. Intent on maintaining its own survival, it has long ceased to live up to the most basic of performance criteria.

In the midst of all this, I was delighted to see the inimitable Anthony Shadid reporting from Cairo again. Talk about professionalism, insight, and grace. Unlike commentators like yours truly who pontificate from the comfort of their armchairs, or those who pass off local scuttlebutt as reportage, Anthony Shadid is a superior model of an intrepid journalist. In his latest piece, he ends in the history-soaked alleys of Darb al-Ahmar (where I spent many a long lost childhood afternoon), “a gritty neighbourhood tangled amid the grandeur of Cairo’s medieval glory.” Who else but Anthony Shadid can pen a sentence like that, and who else can give voice to Cairo (and now Baghdad’s) kind denizens with such respect and honesty?

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