NORTH SINAI: As North Sinai’s various tribes compete for seats in parliament, they face one common challenge: Islamist candidates.
Voters in North Sinai cast their ballots in the third phase of parliamentary elections where 57 candidates and 13 party lists are vying for six seats in the upcoming parliament.
North Sinai residents and politicians expect Islamists to represent the province in parliament as they compete against candidates affiliated with the disbanded National Democratic Party and a few new parties, amid the glaring absence of youth-led parties.
Yet voters seem wary of Islamist representation, expressing concern that Islamists will not confront the Hamas rulers of neighboring Gaza, especially when it comes to what they allege is the prevalence of “elements affiliated to Hezbollah.”
“Salafis are vital in North Sinai. One tribe nominated a number of candidates in different parties, many of whom follow a Salafi ideology,” said local journalist Maher Ismail, explaining that their influence stems from the conservative nature of North Sinai.
However, not all Salafis are taking part in the elections. In Sheikh Zowayed, the “Salafis for Jihad” group has forbidden both participation in the elections and even taking part in protests.
“I don’t have any faith in the Islamists. We don’t want them but unfortunately the first and second rounds have failed many of us,” Sheikh Abdel Moneim Refai, leader of Al Rashayat tribe, told Daily News Egypt.
“But what we really care about now is that whoever is going to represent us [Bedouins] will help include specific articles in the new constitution to guarantee our freedom and humanity,” he said.
Residents of North Sinai have often complained of marginalization and hope that their representatives would tackle issues ranging from developing the province to re-asserting their national identity.
Members of the Azazma tribe in central Sinai’s Nikhil, for example, do not hold Egyptian citizenship due to their geographic location on the borders with Israel.
The former Egyptian foreign affairs minister Ahmed Maher approved the issuance of a special ID card stating that they are members of Azazma, but not that they are full Egyptian citizens. Members of the tribe are hence not eligible to vote.
Residents of Northern Sinai are not allowed to join the army or police forces or hold significant government positions. Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, they were not allowed to form a political party.
“This is what the Islamists play on, they mislead people and tell them that this situation will be reversed once they reach parliament, but all they care about is reaching power. Some of these groups receive foreign funding and I think they have more loyalty to foreign countries than to us, the locals,” Refai alleged.
Poverty and unemployment are rampant in Sinai, particularly in Al-Arish, Sheikh Zowayed and Rafah.
Some attribute the notorious phenomenon of weapon and drugs smuggling and organ trafficking to Sinai’s economic marginalization.
Residents believe that the Egyptian government did very little to improve their situation, saying that after the Jan. 25 uprising an increased security presence is the only change they felt.
“The Egyptian government cannot understand that the solution should not be through increased security, but it should be a politically-driven solution. We reached a deadend, they should send an independent committee to analyze Sinai carefully and set a vision to develop this province,” said activist Saeed Ataik.
Government negligence, residents believe, will lead to the rise of the Islamists within the context of tribalism.
Political parties have approached tribes to nominate the members on their lists; a phenomenon that is omnipresent in every campaign banner or poster all of which boast the name of the candidate and his tribe in large font.
Experts believe that Islamist candidates, backed by prominent tribes, have killed two birds with one stone as they enjoy the support of these tribes.
“Our political scene is very complicated, while some are driven by tribalism, others seek to bring Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to the political scene,” said local journalist and political activist Ashraf El Aini.
“The Egyptian government definitely helped defuse tribalism and boost voting based on party lists when it set North Sinai as one constituency which also prevented the occurance of violence,” he said.
But that’s not what Sinai’s Bedouins believe.
Hanan Mohamed told DNE she did not vote for Islamists but rather voted for her tribe’s candidate who she trusts more.
She criticized the idea of eradicating tribalism in Sinai, saying that it is the essence of Sinai’s dynamics.
“Getting rid of tribalism means getting rid of tribes; the essence of our traditions and culture,” Mohamed said.