Bombings: The Harsh Reality of the Middle East
Trip Start Jan 18, 2006
27Trip End Jun 02, 2006
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I knew before I left for Egypt that there was a good chance "something would happen" while I was in Cairo, a political protest or a violent demonstration or perhaps some act of terrorism. The memory of the Sharm-el-Sheikh bombings was still fresh in everyone's mind when I arrived, but in January terrorism was overshadowed by bird flu and the recent uproar over Denmark.
In the Middle East, just like in any other country, daily life is far more dominant than the peripheral concerns of international disputes. People talk about economics and the lack of jobs, not the latest threats from extreme Muslims. I had begun to scoff at those who couldn't utter a sentence about Egypt without adding a word like "risk," "unstable," or "terrorism" at the end. But I had swung a bit too far to the idealist's side and April 24th forced me back to a much harsher reality.
We were in Jordan when Andrea got the call. We had heard from another friend about a bombing in Tel Aviv, which we had considered visiting, and several in Western Turkey. But Andrea's friend was calling to say that there had been bombings in Egypt, three in the Southern Sinai town of Dahab. I had been there only three weeks earlier.
The news about the tragedy came in slowly. There were e-mails from AUC asking if we were ok and short, vague paragraphs on BBC. But I came to understand the consequences rather quickly because it is an often repeated story over here. A night of violence, a bloody scene created intentionally by an individual whose goals are rarely clear. But I used to think this was the worst part of terrorism, the actual act and the screaming people and the weeks of clean-up. But now I have learned about the economic drop-off, the canceled vacations, and the booming tourist economies that dry up over night.
I thought of the Penguin, of Emed and my friends at the reception desk. Briefly, Leah and Erin and talked in hushed tones about what had happened. They all listened, riveted, as I read the articles from the internet and then more solemnly as I read the Warden's message, a warning e-mail sent to all U.S. citizens when something like this happens.
We began to make jokes to lighten our mood, laughing at the very thing we were grieving over. Warden messages always provide fodder for jokes, they rarely consist of much beyond a lengthy critique of any kind of activity other than sitting in your home watching American TV. Avoid political protests, large groups of any kind, and most importantly any poultry. This time, though, there was an added warning about Southern Sinai.
Over the next few days we were gallivanting around Jordan and I pushed the bombings to the back of mind and tried to focus on planning the trip. But occasionally Jordanians would bring it up and my jovial holiday mood would immediately be muted by the reminder of the greatest defect of the Middle East.
Once back in Egypt we returned to a dorm plastered with signs and posters about the recent tragedy.
"Students, e-mail your parents and let them know you're ok. They have flooded the New York office with phone calls." One poster read.
"Meeting tonight about the bombings in Sinai: concerns and questions will be addressed by the U.S. Embassy," and than in small letters at the bottom, "refreshments will be provided."
Following the bombings in Dahab things were a bit crazy for awhile. There was a suicide bomber in Taba, more bomb attempts in Northern Sinai, and a fatal encounter between police and some suspects. As hard as this is to comprehend, though, life goes on and terrorism quickly becomes a back drop. There are classes, papers, and finals to worry about and so unbelievably students talk about these minor stresses rather than the more bleak details of the bombings and the insurmountable task of stopping future acts.
I still love Cairo, Egyptians, and all the wonderful facets of Middle Eastern culture. But I came to Egypt wanting to prove to everyone that terrorism doesn't define the region, I wanted to discover and Egypt without bombs and I've sense then recognized my naivety. Perhaps that is the greatest tragedy of Dahab, each bombing further cements the West's perception of the Arab world as a violent, chaotic place that contains no beauty.