On the Revolution and Elections

Help! We need somebody!

I have traveled throughout Sinai for a couple of dozen years now, meeting and conversing with Bedouin from all different tribes and regions. Of course, talk lately has been of the lost revolution and presidential elections. And if one thing is clear, it’s that we are all confused.

Amr Moussa won the majority of votes in South Sinai. Why? Because he was the ONLY presidential candidate who campaigned, personally, in South Sinai. He visited Ras Sudr, Abu Zenima, El Tor, and other towns in the region. He came and spoke with the various tribal communities and so when it came time to vote, many chose Moussa because they had met him, listened to him speak, or heard about his visits from friends and family. The Bedouin people had no such experiences with any of the other candidates.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. For the past 30 years of Mubarak’s rule, people in Egypt have talked about Sinai, but there has been little to no action taken, action needed to develop and improve the lives of the people living here. Bedouin who fought with Egypt, against Israel, have been left to fend for themselves, being treated as less than human by the Mubarak regime. The Bedouin have felt lost, neglected since Mubarak took power so many years ago. Not only did the regime not help the people of Sinai, but Mubarak even instigated the tribal problems of North Sinai; Bedouin became enemies because some were friends of Mubarak and therefore “untouchable” and some were not. He is no longer in power, but nothing has changed since the revolution for the people living here. We still wonder why Egyptians are not interested in Sinai. We still feel neglected. We still feel lost. But we no longer feel hope.

If a candidate wants to win the Bedouin vote, then it is simple. He should make the journey to Sinai and ask us what we need. Come, camp out in the desert for a week, visit the area village by village, listen to the people. Only then will he begin to understand what Sinai truly is, who our twenty-two tribes are, what “Bedouin” means, how our system of Bedouin law works. Then, and not before then, he can tell us what he is going to do for Sinai.

Help! We need somebody!

Here’s what we would ask for:

Doctors. Lots of money was already spent on building beautiful – and clean – hospital buildings. But if you are ill in Ras Sudr and need an operation, you are sent to a dirty, crowded hospital in Suez. Why all that travel just to get to a dirty hospital? We hear often about charity activities in both the big cities and small rural areas in mainland Egypt, many organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Volunteer doctors, who would come for a week at a time to offer necessary operations, seems like something the Muslim Brotherhood could help with. Why have they ignored us?

Teachers. Without education, we will die. Basic education, including health and nutrition, is vital, especially for those caring for our children and elderly. Good primary and secondary education is also a must so that we can be employed in good jobs.

Papers. As in land ownership papers. This would ease the worry of all the local people who wonder if someone, some government official even, will come and say the land belongs to them, not us, even though the land has been lived on and worked by our families for generations.

Water and Electricity. Especially a drinking water system. There are many Bedouin, nomads living in and wandering the desert. Their houses have no running water, no electricity, but nearby tourists resorts do. Gas and power are sent through Sinai to Israel and Europe, yet local residents go without.

Factories. The deserts of Sinai are full of manganese, cement, silica, gibs, and more – all exported, trucked out of the peninsula for someone else to process and manufacture. Why? We have the electricity, water, cheap land, plenty of workers, and the material! Factories to make glass or solar panels, to process granite and alabaster – these would give much needed work to the Sinai Bedouin.

Help! We need somebody!

When you know that high-quality marijuana sells for LE 150/kilo and okra for LE 22/kilo, it is easy to see how people can choose to grow the illegal crop if they are faced with needing money to feed their children. But if they had decent-paying employment, no Bedouin would choose to cultivate drugs.

Help! We need somebody!

And Bedouin, including myself, are willing to work, to help. We don’t expect one man to get it all done by himself. But if we don’t see anyone, if no one comes to offer help, Bedouins will not go to vote.

Mubarak left Sinai for the Europeans to develop. Now, the Bedouin want to see a democratically elected Egyptian leader who is willing and able to develop Sinai.

Sinai is like a diamond for Egypt. Egypt must take care of this precious land and its people. Or someone else may try to.

Help! We need somebody!

I have been asked many times why I don’t travel abroad, make a living in a new country. My response is always the same – Sinai is my home. I choose to stay in Sinai because I love my home. But I am worried about her and her people, and this is why I asked my friends to listen and to write this blog post for me. I want people everywhere to know what we Bedouin of Sinai are thinking and feeling.