Thursday, April 28, 2011

The People of Fayrouz

map of Sinai
People of Fayrouz are obviously the inhabitants of Sinai aka "The Land of Fayrouz". There is no exact official record of their numbers, sources claim they are 600000 while others count them at 1.3 million, means either way they comprise less than 2% of the 82 million population of Egypt. Sinai itself is 60,000 km2 out of Egypt's 1,000,000 km2 area , which means it forms 6% of the whole area of Egypt.

The numbers may look insignificant at all, but they are not. Sinai serves as Egypt's eastern gate and have always been the aspiration of invaders throughout history. Also Sinai has most of the country's touristic non-pharaonic attractions for all its reefs and diving spots as well as Mount Sinai and is considered as a "Holy" land as a lots of prophets passed by or lived there.

Sinai's people -the Bedouins- have always felt marginalized and neglected by all the previous regimes, that subsequently lead to an identity crisis. Some -if not many- Bedouins identify themselves as Bedouins not Egyptians or the moderate  ones see themselves as Bedouins then Egyptians. And they always consider themselves as the landlords of the peninsula and that we -other Egyptians and tourists- are their guests. But surprisingly, they are used for border patrols and defense and sometimes they are resorted to to transfer aids or whatever through the desert due to their absolute knowledge of the desert routes and mountains, this is mainly because Bedouins are men of honor so as long as the government respects its side of the deal they won't dissent.
Which deal? well from what i understood there has always been an unwritten agreement between the inhabitants and the government, as long as they mind their own business the government won't intervene. But of course after the Sinai terrorist attacks in the 2000s thing changed, especially after the unnecessary and unexplained mass detention of the Bedouins in the wake of the attacks.
Mountains and blue sea,
the whole Sinai  shore line  nearly looks like this
Apart from that, the development projects in the peninsula by the governments have been so sparse. Even the whole tourism industry that the area strive on usually do not employ the land's inhabitants but resort to expats from Upper Egypt and the Nile Delta.
So that mainly leaves them to grazing, working as peddlers -or the few of them who own bazaars- or the privileged who work as guides; as in some places like Mt. Sinai its obligatory to have a guide climbing the mountain even if you know the way.

All these reasons combined with some greed and rebellious nature push some -a few actually from what they said- to work in the illegitimate fronts of arms and drug smuggling, and even human trafficking to Israel.

Saleh, a young guide at St. Catherine in his 30s is from the Jabalyia tribe. He claims his ancestors root  to Romania and came centuries ago to guard the Monastery. "When i went to my conscription duty in the delta, i was very poorly treated from my fellow conscripts." Saleh explained, and and counted the numorous insults he used to hear including the likes of "Bedouin jew", "zionist" and "traitor". He believes there is some racism from mainland Egyptians towards Sinaiwis. Saleh also stated that he doesnt know the exact number of his tribe, but he expects them to be roughly 5000, and only 3 of them went to college.

Whereas Hamada, a driver from Asyout who has been working in South Sinai for 14 years, believes its the other way round: "They are the racists, they are very aggressive and united against any outsider, as if we will steal their livelihood". Hamada recounted several stories of feuds and fights between them and the bedouins which occasionally reach the point of fire arm shootings. He also added how it was very easy to smuggles fire arms into the peninsula despite all the check points and the scrutinized searching, and also how automatic weapons' prices doubled after the revolution.
We noticed that he always referred to himself and his fellow Upper Egyptians as "we" and the Sinawis as "them" as if they are from very different countries not working side by side and neighboring each other.
 Also both men,along with a local woman working at a bazaar blame the North Sinawis from Arish of using violence and terrorism against the state and the tourists.

a typical Bedouin child on his camel.
There were some positive signs though, like these people actually have schools they built through self effort, most of the children who are educated are school educated not home schooled as thought. Also worth noting that most of these guides and peddlers -even the illiterate- can speak 3 or 4 languages.

Sinai ,with its people is a national treasure and its is a part of Egypt not just a vacation destination, its vast lands can be used for plantations and industry along with the already active tourism industry than can even be expanded, and its people -who already have the determination, with some help can make wonders.

*update: news today that North Sinai security director will be having a discourse with the governorate's youth, from Saleh's stories its believed that most people in Sinai do not have access to the internet. So I think it is better to engage with talks with real people instead of the small and sometimes biased or directed facebook world and twitterverse.

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