Khan al-Khalili: Neo-Terrorism and the Gaza Effect?

Some parts of the world, you know better than others even if you are a world traveler. The Khan al-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo is one of those special places for me. I once interviewed its older goldsmiths and silversmiths about their recollections of when the jewellers’ guilds disappeared. They thought, the 1940s. I ransacked the used book marts for the Khedivial Printing Press 19th century editions at Bulaq of works such as the chronicle of Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, which I later used when I wrote my book, Napoleon’s Egypt. I had my finds bound in the traditional style by its bookbinders.

I sipped mint tea outside the shops where you buy mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes and carved wooden camels. I toured the nearby Mamluk mansion where they filmed scenes for one of the James Bond films. I visited the mosque-shrine of Husayn, the grandson of the prophet, killed at Karbala in Iraq, whose severed head was said to have been interred there by the Shiite Fatimid dynasty. Khan al-Khalili is an emporium to the world. Last year 12 million tourists visited Egypt, mostly Europeans (including a big contingent of Eastern Europeans). Almost all went through Khan al-Khalili.

I can remember talking to one of the store owners, the father of a family friend, about what the worst downturns in business were that he had experienced over the years. He frowned. That’s easy. 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982. The Arab-Israeli Wars. It is not, he said, that fewer tourists and customers came in those years. They did not come at all. They were years when the weaker and more extended merchants went under.

The radical Muslim extremists figured this vulnerability out. They thought if they could destroy the tourist trade, they could pull the plug on the government of Hosni Mubarak, depriving it of revenue from that trade. In the 1980s and 1990s they directly attacked tourists.

On Sunday some small cell struck Khan al-Khalil again, killing a French woman and wounding twenty others, mostly French, at a cafe facing the Husayn Mosque.

But it turns out that like most of the brain-dead tactics of the terrorists, this one always backfires on them. So many Egyptians depend on the revenues from the tourist trade that they view attacks on tourists as a death knell for their own jobs and economy. And Egyptian culture has a basic sense of decency and humaneness that they cannot square with killing innocent foreigners. The radicals made themselves political pariahs. The biggest radical group, The Islamic Grouping or Gama’a Islamiyah, once headed by the blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman (who spearheaded the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993), was rounded up in the thousands. They became so hated and had so few options that they announced they were giving up on violence (not that they were pacifists, but they decided that as a tactic it was not permitted in most circumstances).

The neo-Gama’a was roundly denounced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the number 2 man in al-Qaeda. But his organization had become little more than a tiny political cult inside Egypt.

If I had to guess, I’d guess a small surviving cell of EIJ dropped the two bombs from the balcony of the Hussein Hotel into the marketplace.

I’d also guess that the bombing came in response to the Egyptian government’s tacit support for the Israeli campaign against Hamas in Gaza in December and January. The radicals had been repressed, penetrated, tapped, imprisoned, watched. They had made deals. There hadn’t been a bombing in Cairo for some time. But my guess is that for a few of them, Gaza was a deal breaker.

A recent opinion piece by Mahmud Al-Mubarak in the pan-Arab London daily, al-Hayat [Life] on the “Neo-Terrorists” (translated by the USG Open Source Center) explained:

‘ From this viewpoint, the justifications for continued closure of the Rafah crossing no longer gets popular acceptance inside or outside Egypt. Perhaps this answers the question on the reason for targeting the Egyptian leadership. Gaza and the Arab peoples with it did not ask Egypt for military help, even though this does not conflict with the entitlement in international law to “self-defense” since the Palestinian lands are “under occupation”, with Article 51 of the UN Charter giving peoples the right to defend themselves when subjected to armed aggression. Thus suspicions are raised when the delivery of even humanitarian assistance is prevented!

This is because the logical thing is that in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster, the people of any affected country migrate to their nearest neighbor . . .

The situation is different in Gaza. The people of Gaza do not want to migrate to Egypt but want to remain in their lands, despite the continuation of the Israeli aggression by air, land, and sea! But they are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Forbidding the delivery of this assistance to Gaza is considered “a crime against humanity”, in addition to contravening humanitarian principles and ethics. We should remember that after the Katrina hurricane struck the eastern United States in the fall of 2005, all world countries rushed to help. This included Arab countries that did so as a courtesy in line with international ethics, even though it was a natural disaster not a man-made disaster and the United States did not need material assistance.

The millions in the Arab countries who are following the Israeli massacres against children, women, and the elderly, directly on the air are poised to create a new generation of “terrorists” who want to “exterminate the Jews by all means”, as the Israeli youth put it, for with the launching of every Israeli missile, each piece of shrapnel, and each bullet fired on Gaza anew “terrorist” is born in the Arab world.’

You see, the world has already forgotten Gaza and the horrors perpetrated there, the little girls killed at home while their father was gone, the children hugging their dead mothers for days as aid workers were kept out. But some took it personally. Some thought it so horrendous, so existentially unacceptable, that they had to act. Terrorists are monsters because they most often imagine themselves to be high-minded. They are people who never learned in kindergarten that two wrongs do not make a right, and never learned in life that, as Gandhi said, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Whether the Khan al-Khalili bombing was mainly a reaction to the Gaza War it is too soon to tell. That there will be violent such reactions, some of which will probably kill Americans, seems to me highly likely.

End/ (Not Continued)

Posted in Uncategorized | No Responses | Print |