A trip to Central Sinai
In the 2011 elections, Sinai's electoral districts are divided according to the new mapping of the governorate into two districts: North Sinai and South Sinai. Perhaps due to its small population, which amounts to only 5 percent of the population of Sinai, the governorate's third district of Central Sinai, originally present in the 2010 elections, has disappeared. Living conditions in this area, which occupies 80 percent of the area of Sinai's election map, make its absence from the electoral district map extremely unjustified. Central Sinai happens to be one of Sinai's most critical areas. With nothing but two cement factories and a few small quarries, its rich natural resources are largely untapped. Ironically, despite the scarcity of business ventures, locals are not even lucky enough to benefit much from them, as these ventures seek labour and technicians from outside Central Sinai. In this poor environment, citizens feel pent up due to deprivation of many services, most important of which are opportunities for living and working. This leads many of them to migrate to the north or the south.
On our way to Central Sinai, the density of election publicity was not the only thing thinning down; civilisation was too. The deeper we treaded the more the signs of civilization receded. Every now and then minute clusters of no more than two or three houses would appear in the distance. At the Kilometre 30 area, election publicity was scarce, and in the village most of those we spoke to talked about urgent problems such as the lack of water, power, and other services such as health and education.
"Our region has no shepherd," said Hajj Suleiman Abu Awjan aka Abu Majid, a village resident from Al-Turabeiyeen tribe, "You cannot find anyone to depend on, or to address your needs." Abu Majid meant Central Sinai has no one in charge of it. It has no one to take care of it and look after its interests. There is no one people can seek to make their needs known. "Our wish is that our area is represented by one of its locals," Abu Majid added, "We left the Kilometre 30 area on our way to Al-Qasseemah; its the same there. Al-Qasseemah may have a bigger population but the problems are the same. People talk about unemployment and the lack of jobs. They talk about the hardships they face to secure water, power, and health services. In spite of all this, all we see of the elections is a single poster for a sole candidate timidly glued on the door of a closed shop before it is torn away by the winds."
A drink of water matters much more than elections
When asked about the elections, Sobhi Abu Qershain, a Qasseemah local of the Teyaha tribe and a social worker, responded emotionally. "You are asking me about the elections when I do not even have a drink of water in my house?!" He added, "My dear, talk to me about a dignified life then talk to me about the elections. Here we suffer from unemployment and the lack of job opportunities which forces the youth to turn to other illegal means of livelihood to continue to survive. Many people have migrated and left the place for good. The absence of security reached the point that people might exchange gun shots for the pettiest of reasons even if it is just over a watermelon."
Then there is Yehia Al-Taihy, coordinator of the Central Sinai Revolutionary Movement, who is one of the locals of Nakhl city. Al-Taihy said the problem is that people in Central Sinai were marginalised and forgotten. They dreamed, just as all Egypt's youth dreamt, of change. They dreamt of their area changing into an area that attracted residents instead of repelling them as it does now. In fact, however, the situation grew worse. Expanding the district and integrating it into one district means that the odds of the Central Sinai people having a representative of their own are now non-existent. "We were marginalised," said Al-Taihy, "and now we will become even more so."
It is worth mentioning that prior to the revolution there were intense demands for adding a fourth district to north Sinai's three districts –Bi'r Al-Abd, Al-Areesh, Sheikh Zuwaid, and Rafah- in Central Sinai. Now all these districts have been integrated into one district making all of north Sinai one single district.
Doubts and reservations are the common factor
At Hassanah, we met a well-known member of the Teyaha tribe, Bedouin poet Hussein Bin Amer Al-Taihy. Hussein gave us a warm welcome which reduced the exhaustion of our trip. Regarding elections, Hussein said, "We would like to participate, but how? Until this moment we do not know where to go, or whom to choose, or how? None of the candidates contacted us." Laughing, he continued, "They are probably right! We are so few that our weight would not add much to them. The sad thing is that despite Central Sinai's importance, it continues to repel people instead of attracting them, due to its poverty."
We could not part with Central Sinai without contacting one of its most popular locals, Ali Fraij Rashid of the Al-Luhaiwat tribe, founder and president of the Arab Party for Justice and Equality. Rashid was surprisingly optimistic about the participation of the people of Central Sinai in the elections. However, he mentioned it would be problematic to integrate many of the voting stations into faraway stations, seeing it increased the hardship voters faced, having to travel over 80 kms to reach voting locations such as, Rashid mentioned, Al-Kontella and Al-Naqb. He then spoke of the absence of Central Sinai from most programmes of parties contesting in the elections, with the exception of the Arab Party for Justice and Equality. Rashid said he hoped that his party list would win so that Central Sinai could have a representative to relay its residents' problems and needs.
On our way back, we passed by a famous Sinai cement factory. My companion, who insisted upon accompanying us all the way to Areesh, asked, "Do you know the percentage of Central Sinai workers in this factory? Not even 5 percent." Asked about the reasons, he said "Technical skills, they say. Lame excuses, if you ask me. They could set up training centres if they really wanted to. Aren't Central Sinai locals who are deprived of job opportunities more worthy?" We crossed Lahfin only to see civilisation slowly re-appearing and election publicity coming back to life at the entrances of Areesh.
*Uncredited pictures provided by journalist.