Correspondent’s diary: Traveling to North Sinai

Traveling to North Sinai before Egypt’s 2011 revolution provided a sobering glimpse of the erstwhile police state. Checkpoints were omnipresent along the desert road that connects Cairo and the Gaza Strip. Security officials demanded to see foreigners’ passports and called headquarters if a stamp looked funny or a visa was expired.

(Read: Egypt’s strategic Sinai descends into lawlessness )


Egyptians pray next to a fruit truck outside a mosque during Friday prayers on July 6, 2012 in the town of Arish near the border with Israel in the Sinai, Egypt. (Tara Todras-Whitehil/For The Washington Post)

Egyptians with beards -- often seen here as a sign of an adherence to conservative Islam -- had it worse. They were often detained, harassed and humiliated by police and intelligence officials.

Last week, on a trip to post-revolutionary Northern Sinai, we were stopped no more than a couple of times and quickly waved through after our driver flashed a smile and his national identification card.

Soldiers who appeared to be on a war footing manned most of the checkpoints along the way. They stood guard from tanks or other heavily armored fighting vehicles surrounded by sandbags. They have good reason for that: Sinai residents who want to prevent the reestablishment of police state-like security tactics have been shooting security forces in recent months.

Before the revolution, sitting down for an interview conducted in English in public or taking out a camera or a microphone was a surefire way to draw scrutiny -- sometimes by plainclothes security officers who watched ominously and other times by police officers who demanded to know the identity of the journalist and the individual speaking to him or her.

During our recent three-day reporting trip, we faced no such scrutiny. No one demanded to know who we were or what we were doing. No one stopped us. The only thing that kept us looking over our shoulders was the prospect of getting kidnapped by bedouins, as tourists in the area have in recent months.


View Photo Gallery In the absence of law enforcement, Islamic scholars have established Sharia courts in the Sinai region.

Read more stories by Ernesto Londoño . You can follow him on Twitter.

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- Read more headlines from around the world

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.

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