Islands in the Wind

Yes, this is yet another piece on Tiran and Sanafir. Discontinue reading if you’re quite fed up with the discussion.

I do not question the legal status of the islands. That is not my purview. Although the exuberance of this quarrel reminded me of what one friend used to say about Egypt in 2011; that it was a country with a population of 80 million constitutional jurists. It turned out when Tiran became an issue that there were so many closet experts on maritime and treaty law. I don’t think history ever beared witness, however, to a time when an entire segment of a population was out to prove that parts of the country under their sovereignty did not actually belong to them.

But Egypt never fails to surprise.

I am not questioning the status of the islands because, frankly, I don’t give a piss. I am not an avid scuba diver who’s losing his favourite blue hole, and I was not planning on becoming an offshore realtor. Strategically speaking, the jurisdiction over Tiran does not change the international status of the strait. And that in any case is a moot point, seeing as how Egypt and Israel are getting on like a house on fire.

If the government sold the islands for a return, I see no reason why this should be a cause for wailing. People tend to forget that the government forgoes sovereignty every day, and in ways that have far greater impacts on coming generations than the transfer of two rocky islands where Starbucks fears to tread. The country’s investment law gives full ownership of land to foreign entities. The investment law of November 2015 stipulated that the government can hand over land “for free” under certain conditions. Concessions are constantly handed over to foreign mining companies in non-transparent transactions. The housing sector in Sinai was recently opened up to full foreign ownership, with fructuary rights conceded on land under long term contracts. Sovereignty is eroded in the name of FDI every day without a flicker of disgruntlement.

And that’s alright. Around the world governments with legitimacy do this all the time. It’s called business. As for direct transfers of sovereignty for money, think Louisiana Purchase, Alaska, Virgin Islands, and the Gadsden Purchase. So what’s the big deal about Egypt transferring a couple of islands in return for economic gain?

The problem is that the current regime was unable to admit that it transferred the islands for economic gain. A regime that built its legitimacy on feeding chauvinist nationalistic attitudes is reaping the thorns of its self-aggrandizing twaddle. The state that brokers surreptitious deals in opaque office space is a state fully aware of its vestigial legitimacy. It lives cloaked in fear of evoking its subjects’ cognitive dissonance, and is conscious of its own doublespeak.

What set this regime apart for the Brotherhood, pundits claimed, was that it stood for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the refusal to forsake an inkling of territory to Qatar, Hamas or Israel. Well apparently the only difference between both regimes is their choice of customers. Refusing to stand by its argument that the swap was in the best interest of the country, it resorted instead to pathetic claims of righteousness and  maternal wisdom.

“The Arab Republic of Egypt”, said the constitution-for-all-seasons, “is a sovereign state, united and indivisible, of which no part can be dispensed.” And with regards to any treaties amending the rights of sovereignty “voters must be called for a referendum”.

“Sovereignty belongs to the people”. “We are the citizens. Sovereigns in a sovereign homeland. This is our will and this is the Constitution of our revolution.”

As for the mobs snapping at two islands they had only recently heard of, but had nothing to say about forced disappearances and police brutality, well, whatever rocks your boat people. At least now we know what makes you tick.

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