Revolution spreads to Egypt’s deprived Sinai

Objects are burned at a roadblock in protest of the fatal shooting of a Bedouin protester in Sheikh Zwayyed, 27 January 2011. (Reuters)

SINAI (IPS) - A Bedouin youth casually spreads out a piece of cloth before a police headquarters in Sheikh Zwayyed town in Sinai, the vast desert area to the east of Cairo across the Suez. “I will leave when Mubarak leaves,” he says.

He joins hundreds of others. They have broken through into the police station already, and are now camping there to demand a change in government. Most youth are Bedouin, originally a nomadic tribe in the desert, who’ve been fighting for their rights for years. Over the last few days they feel they’re winning.

The police are rapidly leaving their posts, but some still appear in uniform. One uniformed policeman stands quietly to the side. He is in danger, he seems no danger to others at all. What would he do if attacked? “Just take my uniform off and join the protest,” he tells IPS. “Or maybe just go over to the Palestinian side.”

A youth who gives his name as Hassan Washah has headed off towards Gaza already. To the tunnels underneath the Egyptian-Gaza border, and then in hope of heading home at last to the Buriej refugee camp in Gaza.

Washah had been in prison for years. He was freed by a vast crowd of Bedouin youth who advanced on the jail where he had been kept with scores of others. There was no resistance reported from the police and jail staff; many in fact were reported to have offered assistance.

Sinai is home to many prisons. Countless prisoners have found sudden freedom — nobody seems to know what they were in jail for, and no one wants to ask.

New groups have taken charge, and it’s hard to say who these are. Several check-posts have been set up all the way between Cairo and Sinai. “Who are you,” says a man at one of these checkpoints. This IPS correspondent offers him his Palestinian passport. He glances at it, upside down, and pockets it. After some time he gives it back.

State security in plain clothes, riot police, secret police, the army, Bedouin youth, protesters who had come from Cairo to spread the word — no one seems to know who the people at these check-points are.

Makeshift barricades have been set up all over Sheikh Zwayyed. Looters have run amok. Shops and houses have visibly been stripped of chairs, tables, telephones, files, desks. Some of all this has been burned in heaps.

Cars have been wrecked. Some had been driven into storefronts so the shops could be looted. Others were overturned and burned. It seems a shattered war zone. There has been at least some resistance by police.

“There have been many clashes between Bedouin youth and the security forces,” says a young man sitting on the side of the road. A few minutes later, shooting begins, not far away. “It will end soon,” the young man says calmly. He seemed in no doubt who would prevail.

There is no doubt either that Bedouin youth are fully armed. It is not clear where they got their weapons from. Nothing seems certain here, and nobody asks questions.

By all accounts there have been many casualties. Again, nobody knows how many, and no one can say what treatment they have been able to get, if any.

The sound of the shooting intensifies. It seems to be directed towards the state security building nearby. The building also houses a large number of prisoners. The youth are determined to clear the building of any police loyal to the regime, and to free all prisoners.

The area appears to have drawn many powerful and armed groups that have converged to free their associates and relatives from the prisons. They look determined to succeed. Some of the men carry heavy weapons.

The groups mingle freely with local Bedouin youth. The deprivation across this area is greater than Cairo has ever known. And the anger seems greater too.

With the anger, Bedouin youth now present a face of triumph. “It is a revolution,” one says simply.

All rights reserved, IPS — Inter Press Service (2011). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

Related Links