Wednesday, February 02, 2011

What are Kiwi troops doing in Egypt?

After initially relegating the revolutionary turmoil in Egypt to the back pages of papers and the fag-ends of television news bulletins, New Zealand's media now seems to have decided that the massive protests in Cairo, Alexandria and a dozen other cities deserve to be discussed ahead of such weighty matters as Phil Goff's hair dye and the guest list for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup. The Egyptian revolution has led the television news for the past couple of nights, and this morning's New Zealand Herald features a long report from the streets of Cairo as well as analyses of the situation in Egypt by Kim Sengupta, Anne Penketh, and Wynne Dyer.

But the New Zealand media is still struggling to relate events in Egypt to life in this much more tranquil part of the world. Television news has featured interviews with members of the small Egyptian New Zealand community, and former All Black Frank Bunce, who was caught up in the streetfighting in Cairo while making a travel programme and had to return home early, has been asked at length about his impressions of the revolution.

The Kiwi media has so far failed, though, to discuss the longstanding military connection that this country has had with the regime of the embattled Hosni Mubarak. For nearly thirty years, New Zealand troops have been stationed in the desert of the Sinai peninsula as part of a little-known but strategically significant army called the Multinational Force and Observers.

The Multinational Force and Observers has its origins in the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace, which was brokered by US President Jimmy Carter and signed by Menachem Begin and the Egyptian dictator Anwar Al-Sadat in 1979. The Treaty ended the state of war which had existed between Egypt and its neighbour since 1948, and provided for the evacuation of Israeli forces and settlements from the Sinai peninsula. In return for getting back Sinai, which Israel had occupied during the Six Day War of 1967, Egypt agreed to keep almost all of its army out of the peninsula and to allow an international force to patrol the area alongside its borders with Israel and Gaza. The Multinational Force and Observers was deployed in this border region in 1981.

The deal between Israel and Egypt was widely greeted, in the West at least, as a diplomatic breakthrough that would clear the way for a wider peace in the Middle East. But the Treaty was less popular in the Arab world, because it did nothing to address the longstanding grievances of the Palestinian people. Many of the Palestinians had been driven from their homes during the fighting which surrounded the establishment of Israel in 1948, and during the Six Day War of 1967 the Palestinian territories of West Bank and the Gaza Strip had been occupied by Israeli troops. Egypt had always presented itself as a champion of the Palestinians, and one of the stated aims of the Yom Kippur War it launched in 1973 was to liberate the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians had seen the massive army Egypt kept along Israel's southern frontier as a symbol of Arab pride, and as a constraint on Israeli behaviour in Gaza and on the West Bank. By making the deal with Israel, Sadat seemed to be abandoning the Palestinians.

Many Egyptians had been angry at Sadat over the 1979 Treaty, and in 1981 he was assassinated. Hosni Mubarak succeeded Sadat, and continued with his policy of working closely with Israel and with the United States. The United States rewarded Mubarak's friendship by supplying him with more than a billion dollars of military aid every year.

In the aftermath of the 1979 Treaty, Egypt and Israel jointly constructed a station on the border between Gaza and Egypt. The Rafah Border Crossing, as it was officially and rather euphemistically known, was placed under the sole control of Israel, despite the fact that it connected Egypt and Palestine. Israel kept a tight grip on the Rafah station, frustrating the desire of Gazans to use it for trade and travel.

In 1987, after two decades of occupation by Israel, the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip launched the uprising that quickly became known as the intifada. The intifada has continued intermittently since 1987, as negotiations between Palestinian authorities and Israel have waxed and waned, and Israel has withdrawn from and reoccupied various portions of Palestinian territory.

Israel has succeeded in containing the intifada, and in retaining effective control over the Palestinian territories, partly because it has been able to use the Rafah border station and the buffer of the Sinai peninsula to isolate Gaza from the outside world. Although Israel handed control of the Rafah station back to Egypt in 2005, the Mubarak government has followed Israel's wishes by severely constraining the movement of goods and people across the border. At the request of Israel, Mubarak has often banned the movement of even such essential goods as concrete and steel into Gaza. The border has been closed altogether for long periods.

Because of the way that Israel and Mubarak have isolated the Gaza Strip from the rest of the world, Palestinians and their supporters have frequently spoken of the territory being kept under siege. Convoys of ships manned by pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly attempted to lift the siege by landing goods on the coast of Gaza. Dozens of tunnels have been dug under the border between Gaza and Egypt, and used to smuggle goods into the Strip.
The Multinational Force and Observers plays an important role in maintaining the siege of Gaza Strip. The 1,700 members of the MFO are stationed close to the Strip, and have the authority to seize and detain any Palestinians or pro-Palestinian activists who cross the border of the Gaza Strip into Egypt without the authority of the Mubarak regime. By patrolling the deserts of the eastern Sinai peninsula incessantly, the MFO's soldiers also keep Egyptians away from the Gaza Strip.

Despite the important role it plays in one of the world's most famous conflict zones, the MFO remains a little-known organisation. Because the 1979 deal between Sadat and Israel was unpopular with Arabs, the United Nations refused to take responsibility for the MFO. The force was established instead by the United States, and is still dominated by American troops. The MFO has repeatedly come under attack over the years. In 1984 its Director-General was assassinated in Rome; in 2006 two of its vehicles were targeted by suicide bombers in the Sinai desert.

New Zealand has had soldiers serving in Egypt as part of the MFO since 1982. Currently twenty-seven Kiwis are part of the force; some of them are part of a Training and Advisory Team, while others serve as footsoldiers. In the few statements it makes about New Zealand's contribution to the MFO, our government tends to talk about the role of the force in creating 'peace' and 'stability' in the Middle East. It is hard to see, though, how the continued isolation of the Gaza Strip has produced anything but suffering and violence.

The protest rallies, occupations, and strikes which have brought cities like Cairo and Alexandria to a standstill over the past week have been an overwhelming repudiation of the policies of Hosni Mubarak's dictatorial regime. While Egyptians are angry at a lack of democracy and at 'free' market policies which have sent food prices and unemployment soaring, they have also been speaking out against Mubarak's longstanding support for Israel and the United States. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the more secular forces linked to Mohamed El Baradei have condemned Mubarak's role in the siege of Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood demands a referendum on Sadat's 1979 deal with Israel.

The Egypt-Israel Treaty of Peace was doomed to failure because it was conducted above the heads of the Egyptian and Arab people by a dictator, and because it ignored the plight of the Palestinians. The Multinational Force and Observers, which was founded to implement the terms of this flawed peace deal, has become an obstacle to genuine peace in the Middle East. Only a democraticaly-constituted Egyptian government can make a legitimate and lasting peace deal with Israel, and only Palestinian territories free of the spectres of occupation and siege can negotiate with Israel on anything like equal terms.

If it wants to support the cause of peace in the Middle East, New Zealand should withdraw its troops from the MFO and call for the lifting of the siege of Gaza and the end of the Mubarak regime. At the very least, New Zealanders ought to have a serious and informed public debate about their longstanding contribution to the obscure army that patrols the Sinai desert.


Blogger Unknown said...

Great post Scott- Im glad somebody in NZ has their eye on the ball. I'm sick of the New Zealand media popularising images of Egypt in the "Frank Bunce" sense where this revolution is being depicted as a gateway for terrorists- synonymised by using the title of Muslim Brotherhood and protecting the US fears and best interests.

It frustrates me to hear stories of tourists- people who haven't lived or worked and do not know the daily vicissitudes that the Egyptian people endure, talking of police carrying guns, gunshots being heard- a lot of it is panic- but also it is the usual run of the mill in Cairo and in areas where the military operate- I think what the Egyptian people have demonstrated (in Cairo at least- other areas such as Alexandria and Minya of course are more volatile in the best of circumstances)are their immense humanity- something that in the three seasons I have lived and worked both in Cairo and in other villages, I have come to know.

I actually gave a tour to the NZ ambassador (who since has had his embassy on the Nile trashed- or so I've heard) who was going to throw a Waitangi Day celebration for those troops who are stationed in Sinai.

I've given up on Mainstream NZ television news- sticking with Al Jazeera- but you make a pertinent point that we can do much better to relate to the revolution in Egypt- though I think one way that can happen is looking at the devastation tot he cultural heritage of Egypt which has been destroyed by opportunistic individuals - certainly New Zealand can identify with that.

2:14 pm  
Anonymous American patriot said...

Our concern isn’t Egypt or islam right now; our concern is (or should be) BHO, the anti-American President who occupies the Oval Office. He wants to “fundamentally transform” America, do NOT forget that. And he’s doing just that with what he did and what he does and what he will do. He's a secret Muslim for sure. And a commie.

We should try to overthrow him, either through impeachment or by asking for his resignation; then deal with islam and Egypt.

Stay focused.

2:59 pm  
Anonymous Mark said...

Excellent post, Scott. A good antidote to the on-going Israeli apologetics in the MSM (and from John Key).

For further enlightenment, I'd advise people to take a look at the Counterpunch and Norman Finkelstein websites.

3:55 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

Nice work Scott - It is always a pleasure to be able to read such a sociologically informed opinion. You highlight well what our dreadful media has failed to. I cannot add more than what Shezani has already said from her experience over there, other than that I concur.

4:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tony Blair describes Mubarak as 'immensely courageous and a force for good'

The former British prime minister praised Mubarak over his role in the negotiations and also warned against a rush to elections that could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power

Tony Blair has described Hosni Mubarak, the beleaguered Egyptian leader, as "immensely courageous and a force for good" and warned against a rush to elections that could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

The former British prime minister, who is now an envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, praised Mubarak over his role in the negotiations and said the west was right to back him despite his authoritarian regime because he had maintained peace with Israel.

But that view is likely to anger many Egyptians who believe they have had to endure decades of dictatorship because the US put Israel's interests ahead of their freedom.

9:25 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks Edward and Shezani, but I don't actually have any expertise on Egypt, though of course I'm as interested as anyone else in what's happening there. I only made this post because I was - not for the first time! - frustrated by the Kiwi media's failure to air an important issue, and wanted to get some discusison going. I appreciate the efforts of those who've sent a link to the post to other sites, and put it on facebook.

I suspect that you would be able to talk more incisively about events in Egypt than me, Shezani? You don't fancy doing a guest post do you? I'd be fascinated to read about your experiences there.

I'm pleased that Mark and I agree about the role of the MFO in Sinai, but I'm not sure I'd call myself anti-Israeli, any more than I'd call myself anti-Pakeha. Like New Zealand, Israel is a state established by predominantly European settlers on the territory of another people. Just as we can criticise the history of colonialism in New Zealand without demonising Pakeha, so we can criticise Israeli colonialism without demonising Israelis.

Just as Maori and Pakeha have to co-exist, so Israelis and Palestinians have to co-exist. Anti-semitic dreams of driving of the Israelis into the sea are as unrealistic and unpleasant as the right-wing fantasy of expelling the Palestinians to Jordan and Egypt. Even if it seems quixotic at present in parts of the Middle East, I prefer the socialist dream of ordinary people uniting across borders and ethnicities to the rhetoric of ethnic cleansers. It is encouraging to read about the role of the trade unions in the ongoing Egyptian revolution.

I haven't looked at the Counterpunch website since it started hosting articles by 9/11 Troofers, Holocaust deniers and anti-global warming nuts.

9:56 pm  
Anonymous Peter O'Keefe said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:06 am  
Anonymous Pete O'Keefe said...

Could Barack Hussein Obama be part of the "Anti-Christ?"

This site deals with Biblical Prophecy and some of the "Anti-Christ" actions of Barack Hussein Obama.

Also there is a good picture there showing Obama as the Devil.

Look at the site. Some of you need it.

12:11 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Good post Scott. I didn't know there were New Zealand soldiers there supporting those fascists in Israel.

The New Zealand Army are really right wing bastards or stupid or both. They need to get out of Afghanistan and stop supporting the war in Iraq also.

if this is right about Mubarak and it sounds true (the US are always backing dictators somewhere) it is a good thing he is to be deposed, and the sooner the better.

There were good comments by the Arab Brother Hood on Al Jazeera today. They said that indeed thee President of Israel needs to be worried! Seeing your comments I can see that Arabic people would not be happy about him...hopefully the new regime will get rid of this support for Israel by the military bastards.

Blair is of course a real piece of human(?) crap...that is a given...and Bush and his mates.

1:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Egyptian armed forces are being deployed in Sinai for the first time since the Camp David Accords were signed between Egypt and Israel in 1978.

Armed forces have deployed nation-wide following a powerful wave of protests demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the failure of security forces to tame protests on Friday.

An unnamed Israeli official told the Associated Press that Israel has allowed Egypt to deploy 800 soldiers and two battalions in the Sinai Peninsula. The troops moved to the Sharm al-Sheikh area in South Sinai. The 1978 agreement, which struck a peace deal between Egypt and Israel, prevents the Egyptian military from deploying in the border area.

Protests in North Sinai have focused on the release of prisoners. Many Bedouin tribesmen were arbitrarily arrested in Sinai following terrorist attacks that shook the peninsula in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

According to Ahmad Suweirki, a local journalist, protesters continue to gather in the area because they disapprove of the new cabinet appointed by Mubarak in the last few days in response to sweeping protests.

1:06 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

I'm also tremendously excited that we agree about the role of the MFO in Sinai, Scott.

I'm somewhat less chuffed, however, with your absolutely bizarre and baseless misinterpretation of my exceedingly brief comment (in which I praised your post for providing "a good antidote to the on-going Israeli apologetics in the MSM.").

On the basis of this rather harmless (and very accurate) ONE-SENTENCE criticism of media bias on the Middle East (the substance of which differs little from remarks made by Edward and Shezani above), you've apparently decided to attribute to me (through insinuation rather than direct accusation) a whole cluster of anti-semitic, genocidal and neo-nazi beliefs.

Absolutely F**king jaw-dropping, Scott. What an absolutely bizarre, baseless, completely unethical thing to do.

Apparently to suggest that much of the Western media (particularly its more conservative and compliant sections) tends to broadly regurgitate the Us/Israeli framing of events in the Middle East - is to advocate (according to you):
(1) demonising ordinary Israelis
(2) supporting anti-semitic dreams of driving Israelis into the sea
(3) ethnic-cleansing in general
And quite possibly even (4) Holocaust Denial.

All of which explains why I've suddenly got the feeling that I've just become the victim of a quite bizarre attempt at character assasination.

This is the kind of extreme (well, off-this-planet, in fact) misrepresentation that I'd normally expect from some of the more vitriolic 'hasbara' enthusiasts within the western Israel lobby. Take a look at progressive sites like the New Statesman and you'll find Israeli apologist-trolls desperately trying to smear (as "anti-semites") those on the site making principled criticism of Israel's brutal 44-year Occupation and on-going ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

You've essentially just done the same to me.

You've also defamed the Counterpunch site. In 8 years of reading, I've never once seen an ounce of Holocaust Denial. As far as 9/11 Troofers are concerned, you're essentially condeming a brilliant progressive alternative to the MSM, a leftist site that publishes well over 3000 articles by a whole array of journalists and academics each and every year, all because one or two conspiracy-theorist nutters managed to get what ? 3 or 4 dodgy articles onto the site a number of years ago.

You're almost a positive asset to the Israel Lobby, Scott.

For the record, I'd describe myself as a left-wing social democrat, not even remotely anti-semitic, have no interest in "driving the Israelis into the sea", and given the overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust did indeed take place, I can see no earthly reason why anyone would ever want to deny it.

I do, however, believe in basic Human Rights and International Law.

4:45 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Good post highlighting NZs role as a lackey of the US and in this case also Israel in the Middle East.
However, even while serving the US to enforce its domination of the Middle East, NZ and Israel are not the same kind of white settler colonies.
There is the little matter of about a century between their establishment. TMK Israel is the only instance of a white settler colony that was founded around the same time that most other such colonies were being "liberated".
Moreover NZ's decolonisation was even earlier and completed by about the same time the Jewish settlers started arriving in Palestine.
Whatever the unsolved legacy of colonisation in NZ, there is no sign that the majority of Maori want to secede from a multicultural NZ. And its unlikely that any turn of events would change that.
Israel on the other hand has colonised Palestine by a succession of colonial wars and continues to enforce it with military occupations and harsh reprisals (and NZ troops at Rafah).
While Israel asserts its national rights to Palestine, they are not conceded under any treaty, notwithstanding sellouts by Fatah and the PA, by the displaced Palestinians.
Thus the national question is pretty much dead in NZ while very much alive in Palestine.
The only national rights that Israelis can claim then are by force, not by treaty or assimilation.
It is no accident that the US backing of longstanding dictators like Mubarak is precisely to allow Israel to continue as Zionist colonial oppressor and to act as the US proxy in suppressing the Arab masses of the Middle East.
The downfall of Mubarak and the other US military stooges will put ordinary Israelis to the test. Do they stand shoulder to shoulder with Netanhyahu and the other Zionist occupiers, or do they side with the rising Arab revolution, and join with the Palestinians in founding a single, socialist Palestine.

6:16 pm  
Blogger maps said...

You seem like a bit of a collector of injustices, Mark: I was laying out my reasons for not calling myself anti-Israeli, not commenting on your views, which you hadn't even presented. But if you enjoy wounded indignation then, by all means, use me to make the wound. We all have our kinks.

I think you could possibly read Counterpunch a little more carefully: if you have a look at the archives, you'll see defences of Gilad Atzmon, one of the more colourful Holocaust-deniers knocking about at the moment, and Cockburn's loony tunes conspiracy theories about global warmingand the green revolution. It's not my idea of a good time.

Dave: I don't think the national question is dead in New Zealand - I just think the Pakeha left has never been able to understand it, because we've always acted as though Maori must want either incorporation into New Zealand or national independence. A lot seem to me to want neither. That's where the concept of the multi-national state which Jose Aylwin talked about in his visit here last year could come in handy.

And I think the situation in New Zealand might be, in a strange way, relevant to the Middle East. I'm not an expert, but I won't be surprised if the Palestinian demand for a separate state morphs over the next decade or so into the demand for inclusion in a secularised, decentralised Israeli state (a multi-national state, to use Aylwin's term).

Israel's settlements and roads make a Palestinian state virtually impossible, and most Arab Israelis already want to keep their Israeli citizenship and First World incomes whilst achieving full rights. If the two state solution dies, then the only feasible alternative is some sort of multinational state incorporating both Israel and the territories.

10:37 pm  
Blogger AngonaMM said...

Thanks for an excellent posting, maps. This from an ancient text inscribed upon a coffin; a popular development in imitation of the great tombs of the royals; it begins with: "I made the four winds that every man might breathe in his time. I made the great inundation that the humble might benefit by it like the great. I made every man like his fellow. I have created the gods from my sweat, and the people from the tears of my eye". (Words spoken by Him-whose-names-are-hidden, Coffin Text 1130) c. 2000 B.C.

11:55 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Egypt-Israel oil pipeline blown up.
Maybe it was the kiwi troops having a barbecue.

9:21 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

On the reactionary utopia of a bi-national Palestine

10:43 am  
Anonymous Pete O'Keefe said...

How come Obama says "Pock-ee-stahn?"

Because that's the way THEY say it?

He doesn't say "EE-tahl-yah" for Italy or "Frawhhns" for France or "Nippon" for Japan, or "Doytch-lahnd for Germany.

Heck, he doesn't even say "Hahvud in "Bah-stun," or "Tixuz", or "Kaintuck-ee" or "Norluns."

3:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:07 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home