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Egyptian camel racing returns to northern Sinai after 14-year hiatus

After a 14-year hiatus, the Egyptian state resumed camel racing in el-Arish in north Sinai, in a bid to show that security and stability have returned to the governorate after the Egyptian army had been fighting an insurgency led by terrorist groups for years.
Bedouins watch a camel race in the south Sinai desert, Egypt, Sept. 12, 2020.

The Egyptian state is trying to reestablish some aspects of normalcy in the northern Sinai Peninsula, as a way to prove the victory of the Egyptian army over terrorist groups active in the area. As part of these efforts, the north Sinai governorate organized a camel race in the city of el-Arish after a 14-year hiatus.

The two-day camel race took place on Sept. 14-15 with the participation of tribesmen. The event was accompanied by several art and sports activities and an exhibition of Sinai-made products.

Sinai towns are known their for camel racing events, specifically el-Arish. Races were organized at the racetrack in el-Arish twice a year before they were suspended in 2008 due to the clashes between the Egyptian army and terrorist groups.

In the past months, the Egyptian army and security forces have intensified their attacks against terrorists in north Sinai, specifically in el-Arish. In May, the Egyptian forces announced the killing of 31 militants in el-Arish and Bir al-Abd.

The camel race in el-Arish coincided with the gradual return of Sinai residents to their homes, after they were displaced due to the clashes between the army and militants. In January, a wave of people returned to al-Kharouba village, east of el-Arish, after they left it for seven years following terrorist attacks.

It seems the Egyptian state has become aware of the importance of camel racing in the culture of Sinai tribes.

On the sidelines of the event held in el-Arish, Sheikh Mohammed Abu Anka, a tribal sheikh from Sinai, told the press Sept. 15, “Our tribe is proud of our sons who practice the camel racing sport since childhood,” noting that in camel races each tribe chooses its best cameleer to represent it.

The Egyptian state also sought to eliminate the differences among Sinai’s numerous tribes through sports by organizing this race. 

In an article titled “Camel races eliminate differences between Sinai tribes,” which was published Aug. 13 ahead of the camel race, El-Balad news site, which is close to the government, reported that camel racing in north Sinai greatly contributes to eliminating differences between tribes and unifying ranks.

The article also noted that the resumption of camel race events shows that security stability is returning to Sinai.

Other goals behind organizing the camel race include helping camel owners make economic gains, whether through winning prizes or through buying and selling products during events on the sidelines of the races.

The north Sinai governorate has allocated prizes estimated at 1 million Egyptian pounds ($51,400) to the winners of the race, in which about 350 camels participated. For the first time, video assistant referee technology was used to determine the winner.

The state also aims to revive tourism in the cities of north Sinai, especially in el-Arish. “The camel race in el-Arish helps to revitalize tourism in north Sinai and represents a major tourist promotion for the Egyptian state, especially ahead of the COP27 in November,” Fayez Abu Harb, representative of el-Arish in the Egyptian Senate, said in a televised statement Sept. 14.

However, the most important message that the state aims to send across with the camel race in el-Arish is to show that the situation in north Sinai has returned to normal after the army’s victory over terrorist organizations.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the camel race Sept. 14, Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy told the press, “The race is proof that the north+ Sinai governorate enjoys security and safety thanks to the efforts of the armed forces and the civil police.”

In light of the importance and success of the camel race in el-Arish, north Sinai Gov. Mohamed Abdel-Fadil Shousha announced that an international camel race will be organized in the city in April 2023, with the participation of contestants from Arab and other countries.

In addition, the Ministry of Youth and Sports has allocated 6 million Egyptian pounds ($309,000) to renovate the Egyptian Camel Club in el-Arish.

Maj. Gen. Nasr Salem, adviser at the Nasser Higher Military Academy, told Al-Monitor, “Resuming camel racing in el-Arish is an important step toward restoring stability in the cities of north Sinai.”

He said, “This also sends a message to the people of north Sinai, who have yet to return to their homes, that life has returned to normal, as evidenced by this event that everyone appreciates in Sinai culture.”

Salem noted, “The war against terrorism in Sinai is not limited to armed confrontations. But the state must use soft power, such as sports activities, in order to unify the ranks of Sinai tribes through sports competitions, and then benefit from their unity in the fight against terrorists.”

He added, “This race also reassures citizens outside north Sinai, as the state is working on a project to settle 3 million citizens in the near future in Sinai. Thus, they must be assured that safety and security have returned to Sinai's cities.”

In May, Egypt had announced a settlement plan in Sinai, which aims to attract 3 million citizens from different governorates to live in Sinai, and eventually reach nearly 8 million citizens, as part of efforts to reconstruct Sinai and fight terrorism. 

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