Israel is building a new anti-migrant barrier along its Egyptian border – leaving Mubarak's regime with one problem fewer.
20 January 2010
One can hear the Egyptian authorities breathing a sigh of relief over the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to build a barrier along its border with Egypt to stop refugees, mostly Africans, from crossing into the ‘promised land'. The wall will stretch 250km from the south near Eilat to the edge of the Gaza strip in the north at a cost of about $270 million.
This could be potentially good news for Egypt's government, which has been working with Israel to seal up its porous Sinai frontier and stop the flow of migrants, drugs and other goods across the border. Egypt has been widely criticised for its “shoot-to-stop” policy towards refugees crossing the border into Israel. An estimated 20,000 have crossed the border into Israel since mid-2007 through the largely open Israeli border. More than 50 lives have been claimed by Egyptian border guards since then.
Human rights groups were not happy with the situation and Egypt's policy to stop refugees from slipping into Israel. A Human Rights Watch report, 2009: a bad year for migrants, stated that “Aggressive policies to thwart migrants when they try to cross borders can be lethal. Since May, Egyptian border guards have killed at least 17 migrants trying to cross into Israel.” Since 2008, Israel has also been practicing a policy of “hot returns”, apprehending and quickly returning what the state calls “infiltrators” to Egypt.
The construction of the barrier means that Egypt won't have the headache of being condemned for doing another state a favour. Egyptian security sources said they have not been informed of the plans to build the barrier, but won't object as long as the barrier is built on Israeli soil, reported the BBC.
This is not the only sensitive issue relating to Israeli national security Egypt has had to deal with. Egypt is also facing internal and external criticism for building an underground barrier along its border with the Gaza Strip, which is seen by many as one more way to tighten the siege of Gaza. Egypt also stopped peace activists and an aid convoy led by British MP George Galloway from entering the Gaza Strip last week, while Egyptian police brutally cracked down on foreign demonstrators protesting the government's decision.
As Ajmal Masroor noted here earlier, co-operating with Israel on security matters such as refugees and the Gaza barrier has turned many against Egypt and caused an unnecessary nuisance for the state. Egypt's leadership will be happy with Netanyahu's decision because it gives them one less issue to worry about ahead of a crucial time. The Egyptian regime is believed to be preparing for Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, to succeed his father as president. The country needs to improve its international image, especially concerning human rights, in order to pave the way for Mubarak Jr to take over power with minimal hindrance.
This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited's Comment is Free section on 11 January 2010. Read the related discussion.