Deal With The Roots Of The Problem, Say Experts After Aswan Clashes

Last Thursday, tribal clashes erupted once again in Aswan echoing the horrifying events of April in the southern governorate.

News came that three Nubian men from Dabodeya and Combaniya Nubian tribes were killed and their bodies were mutilated brutally allegedly by members from El-Halayel Arab tribe.

Unlike in April when tribal clashes erupted violently in Aswan leaving dead not less than 26 and dozens injured in what is considered the worst tribal fighting in the southern governorate for 20 years, security forces and the state began to act fast, setting up checkpoints between the territories of the tribes and holding talks with the elders of both tribes in order to save a truce the state sealed in April.

Back in April, for nearly four days horrifying stories came from Aswan with photos and videos on social media on mutual attacks between the Dabodeya Nubians and the El-Halayel Arabs spreading like wildfire in what seemed to be a complete absence of state control. For nearly four days the clashes continued with the security directorate admitting that the matter went out of its control due to the spread of weapons, asking the army for help.

On the fifth day, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab went to Aswan in an attempt to stop the clashes, holding meetings with leading figures of both tribes. Some 48 hours following the premier’s visit, the clashes continued, then a truce was announced according to traditional judicial traditions.

Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb also headed to Aswan and met with leading figures of both tribes in attempt to reach reconciliation. He also formed a committee made of Al-Azhar scholars and sheikhs to supervise the truce and reconciliation efforts.

Al-Azhar, the highest Islamic Sunni institution in Egypt, and indeed the Islamic world, plays an important role in traditional reconciliation councils in Upper Egypt where it regularly sends sheikhs and scholars in order to calm down situations and teach the adversaries on the dangers of violence and tribal vendetta.

Since April, there has been an open truce between the two ethnic groups. Dozens were arrested and the situation calmed down in the city, up until the last few days.

Several Upper Egyptian and Nubian activists, as well sociologists, expected that something like the killings of last Thursday could happen again, exploding the state sponsored truce.

“It is going to happen again in the future simply because the problem is solved in a superficial way. The state did not tackle or come near to the deep roots of the problems,” Nubian activist Fatma Emam told Ahram Online in April, hinting that the same laxity is apparent in how the state approaches sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

“Did the traditional reconciliation councils stop the sectarian tensions? No, they did not, and won’t,” Emam added.

“There are extreme grudges and hate between both sides, fed by racism, and perceptions of favouritism. Reconciliation councils, with photos showing the elderly hugging and kissing, are not going to solve hate and grudges among the young generations so easily,” Emam said.

Emam believes that the only way to solve such problems is to apply the law indiscriminately and fairly, to bolster citizenship and a state of law where all citizens are equal.

Now in late June Emam is still insisting that the only way to end these fight is to uphold citizenship and a state of law.

Upper Egyptian writer and expert Abo El-Abbas Mohamed concurs. “Collect the weapons from the hands of everyone, apply the law indiscriminately between the people, and make the people feel that there is law and there is a state in the South to end such fights,” he told Ahram Online.

Recently Aswan and Upper Egypt were flooded with weapons coming from south and west neighbour countries, in part due to the lack of security following the January 2011 revolution.

“There is an increase of illegal weapons trade in Upper Egypt since the revolution three years ago, as if it was being flooded by weapons coming from Sudan, Libya and Chad through the southern and western borders due to the lack of security,” Mohamed told Ahram Online

Mohamed hinted that among the routes of the illegal arms trade to Egypt from Chad and Sudan were the desert highways and roads between Aswan and Qena to the north.

“The increase of arms in the hands of everyone in Egypt, amid poverty and unemployment, made the crime rate increase in Upper Egypt, especially with the lack of security. What makes things difficult in the south is that when crimes happen sometimes they ignite tribal fights because the criminal is from a certain tribe while the victim from another tribe,” Mohamed elaborated.

For decades tribes in Upper Egypt had notorious and bloody armed fights where tens of people were killed before the state would interfere using traditional and tribal judicial methods to calm things down.

In 1996, a tribal vendetta erupted not only between two clans or families, but rather two governorates, where automatic guns were used in a fight between a village in Minya and one in Sohag. In 1998, a fight between two families resulted in the death of 24 people in Minya governorate. In 2002, Sohag governorate witnessed a massacre because of an old tribal vendetta resulting in the death of 23 persons of one family.

Reconciliation councils have their own sets of terms to apply in the case of an unequal number of victims between the sides. The tribe that started the fight would compensate the other, and its members present coffins to the other side if there are victims.

Nevertheless, underlying problems are rarely addressed. The state, meanwhile, is often accused of neglecting such conflicts, and of neglecting Upper Egypt in general, where there is high level of unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, amid the dominant tribal system.

“The state has neglected Upper Egypt for a long time and that’s why people there lost confidence in the government and had confidence instead in their tribes and their tribal leaders, and their tribal way of life,” Mohamed told Ahram Online.

“Thanks to the extreme centralisation of the government in Cairo, the tribes earned a lot of power because they help people in their lives, instead of the government,” he continued.

Samir Naeim, professor of sociology at Ain Shams University, believes that to end tribal control in Egypt altogether the state must take an important and belated step, which is to industrialise Upper Egypt.

“Invest in the industrialisation and modernisation of Upper Egypt, in order to replace the tribe with the state, so people stop depending on the tribe and its traditions and depend on the law … it is a hard solution, but it is the only way,” Naeim said, adding that the current way of the government in handling tribal conflict is completely wrong.

“The tribal reconciliation councils are not the ways of a modern state, nor a state of law that upholds the value of the law and does not discriminate between its citizens,” Naeim told Ahram Online.

“Otherwise, fights will continue and tribes will still control Upper Egypt,” he said.

Source : Ahram online