As Islamists celebrated their landslide victory in both northern and southern Sinai, tribal Bedouins slowly recovered from the shock of their losses and gathered strength to fight. Sinai Bedouins angrily rejected election results, which were almost completely absent of Bedouin representatives, bar one candidate who succeeded in gaining a seat. Sinai Bedouins are currently preparing charges of fraud against the polling station.
South Sinai Bedouins were quick to respond angrily and violently to results they thought were manipulated. They repeatedly mentioned finding a ballot box with its ballot papers completely burned outside Mount Sinai Youth Forum. They cut off roads in more than one place and attacked the court room. The situation remains tense even after the Court's decision to hold re-elections in Southern Sinai on January 14 and 15. All attempts to calm the situation remain in vain. Mohamed Al Ahmar, political activist from South Sinai, says the elevated levels of anger stem from a feeling of marginalisation. "Does it make sense that immigrants to the region get all the seats and the original inhabitants of South Sinai receive none?"
Sheikh Zuwaid not too far behind
Sheikh Zuwaid also recently witnessed roadblocks on the highway linking Arish to Rafah. The roadblocks were orchestrated by supporters of the Arab Party for Justice and Equality, who not only blocked the roads, but burned cars and held banners reading, "No to fraud. Yes to justice" and "No to the 'new' National Democratic Party'" in reference to the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Over a telephone conversation, Arab Party candidate Mahmoud El Rifai explained, "We submitted our complaint to the Supreme Election Commission after reports of voter fraud and we are waiting to hear back." Ahmed Suleiman, one of Rifai's supporters, said, "We will not rest until we get our rights back peacefully." The Arish-Rafah highway was not blocked for long, as security forces intervened and promised to report the protests to appropriate authorities.
Perhaps it is for the best
Zein El Abidine El Sherif, an El Arish local, writer and editor of the culture page in Sinai's semi-official newspaper, believes that the results could be an indication of the waning influence of tribal powers. El Sherif feels that perhaps this is for the best, if intentions to implement real changes in Sinai are sincere. Bir Al-Abed native Salem Abu Shabana disagrees, saying Islamists will not be able to reach out to the people of Sinai with strong cultural and historical bonds to their tribes. "Take, for example, the alternative they are posing to replace customary law with Sharia," he said, "We are now hearing such things as Islamic law when customary law ruled Bedouin life here in Sinai. Nevertheless, I still affirm that Bedouins will not surrender easily to these new laws."
Youssef Abu Khawar, a Salafi Al Nour party supporter in Sheikh Zuwaid, replied excitedly when the charges of fraud were mentioned. "They are trying to spoil the ideal image of the elections. People willingly elected the Islamists because they are religious by nature." When asked about tribal bonds Abu Khawar said, "We do not oppose tribal bonds, we are sons of tribes and have no qualms with tribal bonds. The so-called 'conflict' between tribes and Islamists is completely fabricated."
A close-up of the situation
"Perhaps you will find what I portray pessimistic," Youssef Mubarak, who researches tribes and senior editor at the Badiya Newspaper tells us, "but it is the truth." The situation is very dangerous and completely aggravated. Those who care about Sinai must swiftly rectify the situation and intervene. The exclusion of entire areas of Sinai such as Sheikh Zuwaid, Rafah and Central Sinai from representation in the parliament will only exacerbate the situation. The elections have created a tense atmosphere between the three different population segments in Sinai: Bedouins of Sheikh Zuwaid, Rafah and Central Sinai on one hand; on the other, urban dwellers of Beir El Abd and El Arish, and finally, immigrants from other provinces."
Mohamed El Ahmar, a political activist from South Sinai, portrays a similar account. Only, he feels there are two polarised segments, namely natives versus immigrants from other provinces. El Ahmar finds that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is to blame for creating this crisis. Had they included the natives of South Sinai in their lists, El Ahmar thinks the situation would have been less inflamed. He said the MB claim natives were excluded due to a lack of appropriate candidates, and that they were therefore forced to compose their list solely of immigrants. Faraj Abu Awwad, a member of the Alaliqat tribe of Southern Sinai says, "We will not give up. We will continue to protest until we get our rights. It does not make sense that our representatives are simple employees in executive bodies, while we had doctors and lawyers running, who are familiar with our problems and are more capable of communicating them."
Proposals and solutions
In his analysis, Youssef Mubarak explains that before the revolution there were three voting circles, and there was talk of adding a fourth so that the people of central Sinai do not feel misrepresented. Now that Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah have been excluded, it is expected that tensions and violence will only rise, which will only negatively impact the immigrant population. Prodded for a solution, Mubarak says, "We must try to remedy the situation by [including Bedouin among seats given by] appointment. Marginalisation is a fire that must be extinguished. We have to ensure the representation of all three segments in future elections. Further, the addition of a fourth voting circle for central Sinai would be a fair and practical solution for everyone."
The population of Southern Sinai has also set forth its own proposals which it feels would diffuse the tension and create justice, considering the number of votes is not the sole indicator of fair representation in a place like Sinai, as Mohamed El Ahmar says. "The people of Sinai must find a way into the parliament," El Ahmar says, "To land on us like a parachute and take all our rights of representation and parliamentary seats is unfair. The number of votes is not everything."
*Uncredited pictures provided by journalist.