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Firas Al-Atraqchi

Firas Al-Atraqchi

Posted: December 6, 2010 03:36 AM

Red Sea Sharks Made in Israel?

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A German tourist was mauled to death by a shark off Egypt's Red Sea coast Sunday, but if popular rumors on the street are to be believed, it was the Israelis who did it.

The attack came days after authorities claimed they had hunted and killed a shark believed to have injured three foreign tourists in previous incidents.

The Egyptian government says that the attacks occurred because a trawler dumped dead sheep into the Red Sea which caused a feeding "frenzy". Marine biologists say overfishing may have forced the sharks to look in new waters for food.

While Egyptian media are treating the incidents as rare, perhaps in a bid to encourage the millions of foreign tourists who visit Sinai's coast every year that the area is safe, there have been several reports in the past decade of shark attacks.

That hasn't dampened the imagination of conspiracy theorists, however. A popular account has it that Israel is "dumping" hungry sharks in the Red Sea in a bid to weaken Egypt's thriving tourism industry.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, foreign visitors to Egypt poured nearly $11 billion into the economy, with growth forecast for 2011 and 2012 as European and North American economies rebound. The tourism sector is also a major source of employment.

(In the 1990s, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group targeted foreign tourists - the Luxor massacre of 58 people being the prime example - in a bid to cripple the industry and economy, deprive the government of foreign cash, and incite a hungry revolution.)

One tourism company operator who owns a small fleet of mini-buses that cater to Cairo's tourist spots told me that Israel wants Egypt to lose one of its most vital economic resources so that it can toe the line on the Palestinians.

A waiter at a popular cafe went further and theorized that the deadly fires in Northern Israel were God's way of punishing the Israelis for orchestrating the shark attacks.

"Look at how God has brought Israel to its knees as it asks the world - even Egypt - for help in putting out the fires," he said.

Blaming Israel for nearly every malady is not restricted to loony street conspiracies. Political analysts blame Israel for emboldening Nile Basin countries in Africa to dispute Egypt's share of the river, fueling diplomatic tensions between Cairo and regional capitals.

Some countries, such as Ethiopia, say they want to build dams upriver; Cairo says this will impede the river's flow, threatening the country's agricultural livelihood.

The issue made headlines in late November when Ethiopia accused Egypt of arming insurgents there as a means of pressuring Addis Ababa to cave in on the Nile River dispute. Cairo denied any involvement.

And in mid-August, when a series of power blackouts lefts millions of Egyptians sweltering in the summer sun, who did they blame? Some speculated that gas exports to Israel have left Egyptian power plants "undernourished".

On December 5, the Ministry of health reported that two women had died from the H1N1 and Avian flu viruses, respectively. No word yet on whether the birds flew in from Israel.

Update: Since the posting of this article, the governor of South Sinai has gone on a popular Egyptian television program to say there is a possibility Israeli intelligence is behind the shark attacks. Local marine biologists have said such notions are "ridiculous".

 

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