Friday, 17 September 2010
Development of Sinai tourism creates frictions with indigenous tribes
Sinai has always been different from the rest of Egypt. It was not included in Herodotus' celebrated but still apt description of Egypt as the gift of the Nile. It is the bridge between Asia and Africa, the buffer fought over by conquering armies down the centuries. In recent years, the Egyptians have used it as the living emblem of what can be achieved through peaceful negotiation. Egypt recovered the Sinai from Israel as a result of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
For Hosni Mubarak, hosting the peace talks and previous major international get-togethers at Sharm el Sheikh helps draw attention to the benefits of jaw-jaw over war-war. Besides which, of course, Sharm el Sheikh is a very pleasant resort and being away from centres of population, it is easier to provide an appropriate level of security there.
However, the rapid development of the tourist industry in the Sinai, often through companies controlled by former regime stalwarts in the military and security establishment, has created frictions with the indigenous tribes. These look down with traditional disdain on the settled peoples of the Nile Valley. But they also resent the way that Egyptians have swamped the area with people from outside the peninsula. Since time immemorial, the Bedouin have survived by trafficking arms, cigarettes, drugs and, increasingly, people through the desert and mountainous region they know so well. Their resentment at the heavy-handed punishments given to miscreants has increased their sense of grievance against a central authority which they scarcely recognise and which they feel has done very little for them.
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