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Egypt's deadly problem

A deeper dive into the day's most important stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most important stories

Wounded are taken to the hospital after the Egypt Sinai mosque bombing in Al-Arish, Egypt on Nov. 24, 2017. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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Another deadly attack strikes Egypt's Sinai region

The attack followed an all-too-familiar pattern. First a bomb blast — designed as much to scatter worshippers at the mosque as to kill. Then came the four-by-fours filled with heavily armed masked men. By the time the shooting stopped in the town of Bir-al-Abd in Egypt's Sinai region today, at least 235 people were dead and more than 200 wounded. It is the deadliest insurgent attack in the country's history.

Egypt's internal struggles haven't received as much attention as the turmoil in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But the fight in the Sinai will soon enter its eighth year and has been consistently destructive and deadly. Here are just a few examples:

  • A bomb and shooting attack last July on an army checkpoint in the town of El Barth, near the border with Israel, killed 23 Egyptian soldiers, including a high-ranking special forces officer.

  • Two bomb attacks against Coptic churches on Palm Sunday in April — the first in Tanta, 100 kilometres north of Cairo, and the other a few hours later in Alexandria. The blasts killed 44 and injured more than 70.

  • Militants stole a garbage truck, packed it with explosives and detonated it at a military roadblock in the town of El-Arish in January 2017, killing at least 13 and injuring 22 others.

  • The downing of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 over the Sinai in October 2015, killing 224.

The violence began in early 2011, as Bedouin tribes in the Sinai sought to fill the power vacuum created by the fall of Hosni Mubarak's rule. The lawless province became a favourite transit point for drug smugglers, human traffickers and weapons dealers importing arms from Libya.

The Egyptian military tried to stamp the insurgency out with campaigns in 2011 and 2012 and ramped up to mass arrests in 2013, but the attacks only intensified.

People walk outside a mosque that was attacked in the northern city of Arish, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, on Nov. 24, 2017. According to initial reports, dozens were killed and injured in a bombing and gunfire targeting worshipers leaving the Friday prayers in the northern city of Arish. (EFE/EPA)

One of the Sinai's deadliest groups, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem), pledged its allegiance to ISIS in the fall of 2014. But it's far from clear that radical Islamists are the only force behind the violence in the province.

Historical grievances — dating back to Israel's post-1967 War control of the Sinai — and choices made the Egyptian government after peace was struck in 1979 are very much in play. Most specifically the 81,000 hectares of prime agricultural land that was taken from the Bedouin and given to wealthy Egyptian businessmen who have built luxury hotels and resorts on the Red Sea.

A solution — either military or negotiated — remains a long way off.

But the fighting has more of a toll than the dead and wounded. Egypt's economy is suffering, too. The Red Sea resorts were transformed to ghost towns following the Metrojet downing. And overall, tourist visits to the country have plummeted -- from 14.7 million in 2015 to just 5.4 million last year.

No more running

When Oscar Pistorius was celebrating his 31st birthday on Wednesday, he could anticipate being a free man by the time he turned 35.

Today, he learned he will serve a decade more than he thought in prison.

Olympic and Paralympic running star Oscar Pistorius stands during court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court on Aug. 19, 2013. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

"Shockingly lenient" was the phrase that South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal used in overturning the six-year sentence the Paralympic champion had been handed for the Valentine's Day 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

And as such, the court more than doubled the penalty, adding 13 years and five months, to bring the punishment in line with South Africa's 15-year minimum for homicide.

Pistorius and his lawyers are now stuck in a losing streak. The judge at his highly publicized trial in 2014 bought the double-amputee sprinter's claim that the killing of Steenkamp — he fired four pistol shots through a locked bathroom door — was an error.

The Blade Runner's story was that he mistook his lover for a burglar, although witness accounts told of a loud argument between the couple that night. The judge gave him five years.

But the initial manslaughter verdict was upgraded to murder upon appeal in 2015, and a year was added to his sentence. Now, with today's decision, the punishment fits the crime.

Oscar Pistorius comes out of the starting blocks during his men's 400 metres heat at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea on Aug. 28, 2011. (Max Rossi/Reuters)

Pistorius, one of the great good news stories of the 2012  London Games when he became the first amputee to compete in track and field at the Olympics, will regain his freedom and his life at 45.

Reeva Steenkamp was 29.

A 105-year-old party

Attending a Grey Cup should be on the bucket list of every Canadian sports fan.

It's not like a Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup finals or the Olympics — all slick, monied, corporate events.

Saskatchewan Rough Riders quarterback Kerry Joseph hoists the trophy as confetti falls in celebration of a 23-19 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the 95th Grey Cup on Nov. 25, 2007, at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Grey Cup festivities are more intimate, the athletes more accessible and even when the game is held in the country's biggest cities, there's a charming, do-it-yourself feeling to the whole thing. A few, often freezing, late fall days punctuated by pancake breakfasts, marching bands and rowdy beer tents.

Here's The National's look back at some past celebrations.

The hoopla around this year's game in Ottawa, which will be played Sunday evening between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders, is holding true to form.

(Although CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie's reluctance to accept that there is a scientific link between football head injuries and brain damage — something accepted as fact by the NFL — might put a bit of a damper on the party.)

Toronto Mayor John Tory and his Calgary counterpart, Naheed Nenshi, have entered into perhaps the most earnest wager in civic sports history, both pledging to donate $5 per point scored by the winning team to a food bank in the champion city.

On Nov. 28, 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing what someone called his 'Mandrake the Magician oufit,' a walks down the grandstand steps to present the Grey Cup trophy to the victorious Montreal Alouettes. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

If you're in Ottawa tonight, you can go see an "alternative" concert featuring Sloan. Or wait for "classic rock" night Saturday, with Cancon warhorses Trooper and April Wine.

The forecast for game day is brisk — a high of –4 C with flurries — but if you have $150 to spare there's a VIP tailgate event at Landsdowne Park, indoors, with drinks included and live music from the CFL Hall of Fame Flutie Brothers Band.

The best Grey Cup tradition, of course, remains the Calgary Stampeders Grey Cup Committee riding a horse through a hotel lobby. It started as a prank at Toronto's Royal York in 1948.

The last time the Stamps matched up against the Argos for the championship, at the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto in 2012, the swank old hotel — now owned by Fairmont — at first declined to let the horse in.

So last year, when the game returned to Hogtown, Calgary boosters found a more willing venue — the downtown Holiday Inn.

And CFL history was made anew:

Just like you think.

Quote of the moment

"We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn't work. We don't want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon's Christian Maronite patriarch on Nov. 14, 2017, in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's King Salman hosted the head of the Lebanese Maronite church Beshara Rai, a historic first at a time when Riyadh is stepping up the pressure on Iran-backed Hezbollah. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Japanese politician brings baby to work to highlight plight of working moms. Colleagues prove her point. (Guardian)
  • University of Lethbridge professor accused of anti-Semitic views reinstated. (CBC)
  • Cops try to shut down coca plantations, poor Colombian farmers resist. (LA Times)
  • Deal signed to return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, but UNHCR says it's still not safe. (Daily Star)
  • Sobey's to lay off 800 workers across Canada. (CBC)
  • Kids soccer ref blows whistle on "entitled and despicable" Beverly Hills parents (LA Weekly)

This weekend in history

Nov. 25, 1948: Marshall McLuhan decries poor grammar among 1940s youth.

Those "hep cats" and their infernal "zoot suits."

McLuhan participates in a 1948 panel discussing language training. 3:37
Marshall McLuhan in 1945. (Josephine Smith/Library and Archives Canada/PA-172791)


Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.