Geopolitics

In Egypt, Between Hungry Fishermen And Human Smugglers

Libya is where refugees now gather to attempt the perilous crossing to Europe. But Egypt is often the source of both crafts and crews. Only economic solutions can stop human smuggling.

A shipyard in Alexandria
A shipyard in Alexandria
Boris Mabillard

The Internet has so many ways to aid and abet criminals:

"Boat in good condition to cruise the Mediterranean.

Ideal for families.

We offer special discounts for groups and during summer sales."

The details of the online ad and the phone numbers reveal that it comes from Egypt. Could it actually be directed at smugglers looking to cross the Mediterranean?

While most migrants these days set off from the Libyan coast, where scant surveillance has made clandestine networks ubiquitous, Egypt has a significant advantage in one key part of the black market economy of sea-borne human trafficking: Since the time of the Pharaohs, Egyptians have always been known as the best in the region for building boats.

Small fishing vessels in the port of Alexandria remain moored day and night, out of sight in a canal turned into a sewer which runs through populated areas toward the sea. Policemen keep an eye on a steel grid that prevents access to the canal, to keep the boats safe from robbery and smugglers.

Not naive

On the wharves nearby, street vendors display the daily catch amid a strong stench and the sight of people enjoying fried fish. A hundred meters away, behind a a graveyard of broken crafts, shipyard workers are renovating an old boat.

Bahi is the foreman of a small shipyard in Alexandria. He used the salvaged bow of a trawler that was broken open and 100 kilos of nails to rebuild his ship, helped by a five-man team busy wedging ledger boards and hitting nails as big as a hand.

"There is only one week of work left before this boat sets sail," says Bahi, a cheerful man in his early thirties. He and his men have been working on it for three months now. Once it's finished, the trawler will sail to Cyprus or Italy.

"We have to go further to fill the nets. There are no longer fish near shore because of industrial fisheries and foreign vessels that operate in the African territorial seas," he explains.

The boat is worth $60,000. The buyer, Khaled, is a quiet man in his mid-50s dressed in a cheap suit. He seems satisfied with the result. We ask him what he'll use the boat for. He replies, "For boat trips with friends, and I'll take tourists as well," he says. When we inquire about the nature of his job, he mumbles something inaudible and leaves. The workers start to chuckle.

In front of a dozen ramshackle grounded vessels, the boss of a junkyard is talking with a potential client while his son supervises the outside workshop. Sameh Abdul Zawad, the son, says that he has never dealt with smugglers even though he has often been asked by "shady guys" to refurbish their boats. "When we suspect that those crafts will be used by migrants, we just tell them to go away," says Zawad. "But at the end of day, what our clients do with their vessels is none of our business. We should not be naive. Who takes the risk of buying a fishing boat nowadays? It's not worth the investment."

Milad’s office is located in Bourj Al-Megazi, a small town in the middle of the northern Egyptian Governorate of Kafr el-Sheikh, where his small NGO supports local fishermen. "They have to go further and further to catch fish, from the Libyan coasts to Tunisia," he says. "A shipwreck occurred there not long ago, and an Egyptian crew was detained for reaching Tunisian waters."

Underage sailors

But what Milad is really concerned about is criminal networks. "Sea-related jobs do not require as much labor force as they used to, which leaves young people lost and broke. They are easy preys for mobsters who hire handymen and fishermen on boatloads of migrants. They choose boys under 16 because they know they won't be brought to justice."

On some nights, dozens of refugees led by smugglers quietly cross the small town. Milad has seen them: They move toward the desert lands which lead them eventually to the coasts of Libya, where they are crammed into vessels always on the verge of capsizing.

Faris al-Bashawat is a 56-year-old Syrian refugee. He hopes to be reunited with his children in Germany by legal means â€" but if it does not happen, he will resort to smugglers, as he did once before.

Bashawat comes from Kuneitra, south of Damascus, where he used to lead a comfortable life with his second wife and his 12 children. "My business was booming before the war. Trouble began in 2012 when a Hezbollah commando sent by a competitor tried to kill me. I was shot five times in the stomach. I went from millionaire to beggar in a few months."

Ever since, he has been trying to send his children one by one to Germany. Seven of them along with his wife are already there, and no one has died in transit. But the patriarch is scared, and does not want to attempt the journey with his mother.

In spite of his fear of the sea, Bashawat could simply use the same smugglers who took his children to Europe. One of them shared details on the phone about the prices and the most effective route. "First, a small boat, and then a bigger one that stops in Libya where most migrants are waiting. They later head to Sicily or the island of Lampedusa," he says. "Simple as that, and it gives work to Egyptians who would otherwise be jobless."

Milad thinks there is another way to support the local fishermen families. "All that was needed was an exclusive and defined fishing area which would have permitted the repopulation of the waters off this coast. Reboosting small-scale fishing is the best way to counter the underground economy."

Meanwhile, the Egyptian army has ambitious industrial plans for the coast towards Port Said: a special economic zone, grain silos, a new harbor. But if they do not tackle poverty, smugglers still have many fruitful days ahead.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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