Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sham el Nessim? In Dahab It Was Smoke

Dahab blasts pinned on suicide bombers : Mail & Guardian Online

I had planned a post on one of my favourite holidays in Egypt, Sham el Nessim. Sham el Nessim (it means 'smell the breeze') is an ancient festival from pharaonic times when all the families in Egypt head for the closest spot of green to spend the day in celebration of nature and spring eating fish, onions and eggs. I spent the morning in the desert with my neighbour Morad who was riding a wonderful mare I bought last year. Stella has spent a year with us hopefully regaining her sanity after time at the racetrack and pyramids stables....Yesterday she showed me just how much progress she'd made and I was walking on air all day.

Until evening. A group of us were sitting around the remnants of our own Sham el Nessim feast when a phone message told us to turn on the news. Damn. Another tragedy in Sinai. Following the news on the BBC this morning we listened to the usual speculations regarding Al Qaeda, but the feeling for many of us is that this is part of a serious disaffection between the Egyptian government and the Bedouin who for centuries were the only inhabitants of Sinai. The peninsula was one of the most beautiful and desolate places in the world, bare rocky crags that support the barest of desert life looked down on bare sandy beaches where the clear blue sea bloomed with multicoloured fish and corals in a glorious counterpoint to the reds, browns and blacks of the desert rocks. Until recently, this was Sinai. Most of the roads had been built during the Israeli occupation and there was little interest from the Egyptian government in the area at all.

Entrepreneurs realised the potential for touristic development of the Sinai and began building hotels, camps, time-share apartments and so on on the coastal areas. Unfortunately much of the development was undertaken without any of the necessary environmental impact studies, but that is another story. What is important for the issue here is that the lands where the coastal Bedouin families had been fishing are no longer available to them because the peninsula is almost wall to wall development on the coast. Families that sold land to developers often can't afford to live in the new towns that are growing around the tourist areas. Land that was sold for peanuts to Egyptian developers years ago has earned millions of dollars, euros, yen, what have you, for the businessmen, but the Bedouin have simply been pushed into the barren interior of the land where the most promising work is in the growing of marijuana and opium poppies. Naturally these enterprises are not looked upon with favour by the government and the farms are the targets of drug raids on a regular basis.

But has anyone considered sharing the benefits of development with the local families? Very few. With all of the money flowing through Sinai, very little has stayed there to benefit the Bedouin who barely manage to exist in their beautiful hell. No schools, no training, no hospitals. What are the children here expected to do in the future in this situation? How are children who have no material assets, no chance to learn the skills needed in the increasingly urban society that we have here, going to manage as adults who have no possibility of employment?

Why do we need to look abroad for the perpetrators? As the government has said, this is a local problem but it is a very serious one that needs attention.

15 comments:

julianna said...

This happened in Petra too.. and it was such a give and take with good versus bad..

On the one hand, the beduin were living in the tombs and much damage was being done..

On the other hand, they were pushed out of the park-- one of the few places where there was water-- and just forced to figure out something new.

They are tough but they are not immortal. They have the same necessities. I wish that there was more consideration for them.

We met a little Beduin girl at Bayda, the neolithic site near petra.. and she was amazing. About 9 years old but she spoke several languages.. it was her job to basically do some pan-handling. But wow. You could tell she was a smart as a whip.

claudia said...

I've been reading your blog off and on for a couple of months and I just want to thank you for taking the time to make this place!

I've been wanting to visit Egypt for years and decided this year that I was going to save up for it. I started reading everything I could about it. The good and the bad. When I heard about the bombings the first thing that came to mind was that it was internal. There's only so far a person can be pushed until they start to push back. This internal conflict is what is makin me waver about my trip. I hope some resolution can be found.

Mia said...

Ditto the above.. except that my trip is already paid for... supposed to be there in October... now what?

April said...

wow, i'm glad i came across your blog. it is very enlightening as to the situation in egypt. as an american citizen, i get all the media baloney and have to try to sort out the ruth for myself.

Too bad about the Bedouin--this seems to be happening all over the world. capitalism is killing the truly beautiful lifestyles...

Anonymous said...

Go to Sinai. It's the most wonderful place I've ever been to. The local Bedouin are amazing folk. I will definitely be visiting again. The bombing won't stop me.

Maryanne said...

A bombing in one town is no reason to cancel a trip to a whole country. And the Sinai bombings have followed a pattern of Egyptian public holidays. Put those things together and you come to Egypt but if you are nervous about Sinai don't go on a public holiday. Any ordinary day, including weekends, will probably be fine. The fact is, shit happens. You can find a bombing in lots of countries anymore. I don't know that very many canceled holidays in Spain, France or England over bombings, so why worry about Egypt. Crossing a busy street somewhere is still way more dangerous and definitely crossing a street in Egypt is a much larger threat to one's health in terms of probability than a bombing.

Maryanne said...

There have been other incidents...just our luck. Who knows if they are related or not? Certainly, apparently no one here. The Christian Science Monitor had a very interesting article (let's see if I can do an html link) at Searching for clues in Egypt's resort blasts For me the bottom line is that the world is full of relative crazies and we all have to make our way. I don't feel that my life here is endangered by these things anymore than the life of someone in San Francisco would have been endangered by the Omaha City bombing by homegrown American crazies.

Ginger said...

I linked over to your blog from gia/gina in Italy a couple of months ago and it's been a pure pleasure from the info on a country that I know next to nothing about, to the true respect and compassion you have for your chosen country and it's people, thank you for this glimps thru Alices looking glass.

I'm an expat living in Italy I don't have 1/5 of your patience and empathy. Blessings!

Patsy Terrell said...

A friend referred me to your blog and I've been engrossed in reading all morning. I love the photos, the wedding story, and the daily life bits. I love the photos of various places. Wonderful!

I've not gotten to live in Egypt yet, but did visit for nearly a month and loved every second of it. I'm amazed at how people who've never been somewhere can decide it's one way or another.

I found people warm, friendly, inviting, charming and welcoming. I went to an Egyptian wedding, was invited into people's homes, and always treated with respect. In turn I was respectful that I was a visitor and it was not my job to change things - I was an invited guest and I acted like one. I spoke softly, dressed modestly, asked nicely and had a life changing experience.

I was an American woman traveling alone and I never had a single problem - I didn't expect any and I didn't have any.

I'm certain it's very different living somewhere than it is visiting, but I loved the experience and am eager to return - hopefully for an extended period of time.

poeticphilly said...

I came across your site looking for information on Egypt for work and I agree with you wholeheartedly. The developers need to be held accountable for displacing these people. Education must be improved for generations of children after us are dependent upon it. How are a people expected to function and exist for themselves if they are not properly educated? Education is a major issue in the United States because sports is given more importance just because it generates more money in the immediate future. Whereas adequate education enables a people to take care of themselves for generations. Me personally, I would invest in education...

amoetspes said...

Thank you for your blog, I've been reading it for almost a year, and have enjoyed every post. Soon I will be joining you as a resident in that lovely country that you have chosen. Having spent time and done work there in the past, I can't wait to make it my home.

Spanky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Spanky said...

I will be moving to Egypt this summer to live for a year, and Sinai was one of those places I never got to go to last time I lived in Egypt. As an American citizen, I felt my eyes were open with a smack across the face going to Egypt and learning about the modern culture. I am really glad you have your website since I found someone with the same sentiments that I had living in Egypt. I understand the concept of being pushed too far by being to Egypt and seeing what is happening to a specific culture in Egypt. I'll have to add you to my blog as a link when I start it back up when I move there in June. Thanks you though for helping me find a site I can finally send to my friends so they can understand my views on terrorism.

-Kara

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Emy said...

I am happy I found your blog too. I am moving to Egypy permanently in February and I know that Egypt will be more than just a place to live, it will be my new home.