When EgyptVotes asked how they would predict the electoral climate and whether or not there might be violence, the candidates said that the upcoming elections in Sinai would be calm and would not witness any conflicts. Abdel Rahman al-Shourabgy, a prominent figure in the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Sinai, said that expanding the electoral district to include what were formerly three electoral districts would put a damper on tribal tensions that were the prime cause of violence. Mahmoud Rifai, a candidate for the Arab Party for Justice and Equality, believed that the number of political parties and candidates would also keep violence from escalating. Conservative Party candidate Mohamed Abu Hany agreed there would be no violence, but noted that the expansion of the district would deprive areas with lower population density – such as central Sinai – of a voice. This would increase tensions and threaten social peace, he said, recalling that in the 2010 elections the sole person to fall victim of a tribal feud hailed from Sheikh Zuwaid.
Knives, cannons, missiles and pruning shears: just a coincidence?
While candidates expect upcoming elections to go smoothly without violence or victims, there are a few worrying signs that demand our attention. The ballot symbols for area candidates offer innumerable examples: the symbol for candidate Kamal Abu Bakheit, who inclines to the Islamist side, is a knife; independent candidate Saleh Abu Rayyash has a cannon as his symbol; the symbol for independent candidate Mohsen Abdel Rahman Abu Hooly is a pair of pruning shears; while Dr. Suleiman Abu Arada has a falcon for his symbol. These are the main independent figures in elections in Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah, but by a strange coincidence the four political parties who have a strong presence here have symbols not much different than those of the independent candidates. The Arab Party for Justice and Equality has a falcon as its symbol; the National Party of Egypt's symbol is a missile; and the Conservative Party's symbol is a tank. Alone among the parties that have a strong presence here, the Salafi Nour Party is the only one whose symbol does not refer to violence; rather, they use their traditional symbol: a Ramadan lamp.
His symbol, the pruning shears, had no relationship to violence, said Abu Hooly, noting he personally denounced violence, but wanted to choose a symbol that was familiar, and to which people in Sinai were accustomed. "We're approaching the season for pruning peaches. Pruning shears re used to cut off dead branches from the peach tree, our main crop, and the peach harvest is the main engine of our economy after the smuggling tunnels.
Hatem Muallam, owner of an internet café in Sheikh Zuwaid and someone personally close to Kamal Abu Bakheit said he had asked the candidate why he chose a knife as his symbol. Abu Bakheit said he was given the choice between a mango and a knife, and since the mango was an unclear symbol, he had chosen the knife.
Maybe it really was a coincidence. However, when all the ballot symbols in a relatively small but nonetheless critical region like Zone C all seem to hint at the same thing, the question arises: are we not the product of our own environment and culture?
A famous Bedouin proverb in Sinai says "The country fights with my people" – that is, every region has its own logic, its own culture that makes the region faithful to its people and culture, and vice versa. For this reason, it's no surprise that the area's culture is reflected in its people, be they candidates for the People's Assembly or the voters who will elect them. Whether we intend to or not, in the end we follow our homeland's culture. Thus, we can't rule out that the violent culture of Zone C had an effect on the choice of these ballot symbols.
*Uncredited pictures provided by the journalist.