In Columbia Journalism Review, August 10, 2012:
Armed assailants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers waiting to break the day’s Ramadan fast in the Sinai Peninsula on Sunday. The unidentified attackers proceeded to steal two military vehicles, which they used to breach the Israeli border before being thwarted by an Israeli airstrike. Eight attackers were reportedly killed during the incident. The attack raised the stakes in an ongoing battle for security in the Sinai Peninsula, a rugged, sparsely populated, politically neglected region where Bedouin groups sometimes exert as much control as the Egyptian military, which itself is prohibited by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel from deploying sufficient troops in the area.
But the attack also underlined how little information is widely available—particularly in the non-Arabic press—about the Sinai, which is emerging as a burning political and security issue. The night of the initial attack, Egyptian and international television networks were forced to rely on a trickle of information from state news outlets as well as phone interviews with the few Egyptian journalists based in the Sinai.
By Wednesday morning, the sense of confusion only deepened when news leaked of an Egyptian military operation in north Sinai, which one official claimed killed 20 people. But an Al Jazeera English reporter on the scene reported that no bodies were found in the morgues and no one was reported missing from the towns where the operation reportedly took place. Back in Cairo, a brief statement from the military, read on television by a stern, disembodied voice, confirmed that an operation took place but gave few details.
Of course, a degree of confusion is to be expected whenever news of a sensitive security matter breaks in a remote region. But the ongoing crisis in the Sinai demands deep reporting on the economic, military, and political dynamics at the root of the instability. International journalists said that such reporting is difficult to carry out because of access restrictions applied by the Egyptian authorities along with increasing concerns for personal safety in a region where foreigners, Americans in particular, have recently been targeted for kidnapping. Police all but disappeared from the Sinai after heavily armed Bedouin routed them in fighting during the winter 2011 uprising that ended the dictatorship of former president Hosni Mubarak.
“I wouldn’t feel safe for more than a few days unless I was staying in one place with people I trust,” said GlobalPost senior Middle East correspondent Erin Cunningham. “Which is how I conducted my interviews in Kandahar, in Afghanistan.”