Behind the conflict: Egypt and the Sinai
As the call to prayer radiates across the dusty, red rooftops of Cairo, the people have already risen, set for another full day. With approximately 12 million people calling the city home, travel in and out of the pulsating city centre is a fluid motion of culture, speed and noise.
Despite the political instability and turmoil ever-present throughout Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo, it is yet another phase of change for the city and across the country. As beloved leader, Gamal Nasser attempted to turn a period of unrest into a strength for Arab unity through Pan-Arabism – Nasserism as Egyptians referred to it – in the 1950s and 1960s, the country today is trying once again, but is still far from a stranger to war and political frustration in their bid for a free Arab world.
With global pressure mounting on leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in response to his government’s convictions of international journalists and their supposed bias towards the banned, Muslim Brotherhood, international communities have raised questions about Egypt’s policy towards free media and the safe keeping of foreign correspondents reporting the news and the citizens of the country. Through this, it is easy to forget the great beauty and history this lively country and its people have to offer.
The Egyptians are welcoming and proud of their nation; eager to show off their city or town, emphasising there is more than a vivid ancient history filled with hieroglyphics, the pyramids and sphinx, of Egypt to discover. To see the real country, is to get out of the tourist traps of bus upon bus filled with English speaking ignoramus and into the heartland of the countryside; meeting the people and absorbing the food, culture and lifestyle.
Travelling out of the cities, to the highly contested area of the Sinai desert, is where an older Egyptian lifestyle can be spotted. The radical countryside of vast mountain ranges, rocky cliff faces and deep valleys dominate the landscape where thick blood coloured sand meets hazy blue skies on the horizon. The smell of fresh baron air, slightly tainted with the scent of fire reminds you that despite the distance between small settlements, you are never quite alone.
Tourist trekking around the biblical areas of south Sinai has become a popular way for locals to earn a living and to provide an historical account of the recent conflict, forever threatening the region. The local guides and policeman by law, accompanying our group climb through the rocky and jarred surfaces with little more than a pair of second hand business shoes or well-worn loafers and carry no more than a tin kettle for boiling water and a pack of cigarettes, prove to the novice tourists, just how it’s done. They’re proud of their ancestry and offer tea and homemade sweets when passing by their family’s farmlands. The area is known for its opium with few other plant life scattered across the desert growing between cracks of the granite rock and sandstone.
But the real drawcard lies in the overnight trek up Mt Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The arduous climb requires persistence and a reasonable level of fitness. The steps are unstable and steep and with little more than a head torch as a guide, this night climb is not for the faint hearted. There are two routes up the mountain, the steps being the faster route. Sleeping in Bedouin huts half way up the mountain allows you to break up the climb significantly and ensures you’ll bare witness to the phenomenal sunrise over the rough landscape overlooking Mt St Catherine, the second largest climb in the Sinai where the oldest functioning monastery resides at the bottom.
With an area of 60,000 km2 the historical legacy of the Sinai has keep the conflict alive where in the 20th century alone, the UK, Israel, former Mesopotamia and Egypt have all claimed ownership over the land. The biblical significance for those of faith provides a pilgrimage like act for those interested in the history of the region.