Egypt's Bedouin fear they will take the blame
This week’s Red Sea bombing has left the Bedouin people of the Sinai feeling three times injured. Four of their children were seriously injured, their tourism-dependent livelihoods are threatened, and once again they think they will be blamed for the bombs.
After the attacks, tourists who wanted to leave Dahab found themselves stranded because Bedouin taxi drivers were scared to leave their homes for fear of arrest. Holidaymakers who stayed were unable to go on diving trips and desert safaris for the same reason.
Ziad Mazayana (25), who started working with camels for tourists and is now a dive master, said: “100% of existence is based on tourism, from camels to camping. We could never harm this place and we would be much better at protecting it than the government. Yet we are scared that once again because the government cannot find the real culprits we will be blamed.’‘
Egypt has paid a heavy price for the attacks. Most of the dead and injured are Egyptian and tourism is a vital plank in the economy, contributing 11% of gross domestic product. However, it is the Bedouin who feel most aggrieved.
In October 2004, following the bombing of a hotel and a beach camp in the northern Sinai, about 3 000 Bedouin were arrested. According to Human Rights Watch, many were tortured. After the Sharm el-Sheik bombing in July 2005 there were further arrests.
In the village of Elassala next to Dahab, where the Bedouin who tend to the tourists live, camels and goats wander the unpaved streets and children run barefoot. The young men in djellabas and headscarves speak foreign languages and educate tourists in the ways of the desert and the sea.
Several of the children carry shrapnel wounds and wear bloody T-shirts.
One woman tells of Mohammad Ahmed (15), who was playing football with a group of Bedouin children by the Dahab seafront when the first bomb went off. Being deaf, he did not hear the explosion, but he saw the flames. By the time he started to run he was knocked over by the second explosion. His relatives still do not know how badly he is injured.
Abu Omar Mazatyana was standing nearby when the boy was injured and helped to get the wounded to hospital. “The locals were much quicker to help the injured than the government agencies. We took them to the hospital in our cars.’‘
He said he was sick of the government blaming the Bedouin for its failure to provide security for tourists. “The government sit in Cairo in their offices surrounded with security and they have no idea what is going on here. They can only guess.
“By the time we recovered from the Taba bombings, Sharm el-Sheik happened and just as we are recovering from that Dahab is bombed to bring us right back to zero.’‘
He added: “People will not leave their homes because they are scared of being arrested. If there was one Bedouin involved, it would not warrant the persecution that we get.’‘
On Tuesday the Bedouin marched in protest at the bombings. Crowds of men, women and children walked around the small resort for three hours. Tribal elder Sheikh Tawala Salam said the Bedouin felt persecuted by the government and ruined by the bombers. “Maybe we should just grow marijuana and that will make everyone happy,’’ he said. — Â