Poppy Cultivation grows in the Absence of Tourism in SinaiMay 15, 2014 in Egypt, Sinai Peninsula
In the absence of tourists in the Sinai Peninsula, Bedouins are becoming increasingly involved cultivating poppies to produce raw opium for income. Poppies have been cultivated in Egypt for decades, conducted by a minority of residents. In the aftermath of the Arab spring, more desperate
Prior to 2011, Egypt’s tourism industry employed 3.7 million people. Egyptian Bedouins in Sinai were among those employed in the tourism industry in Sinai for decades; offering historical tours, camel rentals, and Bedouin experience holidays. However in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the number of tourists has shrunk considerably, causing a sever decrease in tourism jobs. Between 2011 and 2013, tourism revenues have been reduced by over 50%. The first quarter of 2014 has already seen a 43% decrease from the previous year.
At the earliest stages of the Egyptian revolution, the Sinai became a lawless place as heavily armed residents drove security forces almost completely out of the region. Over the years since Mubarak’s ouster, tourists have been replaced slowly by militant groups seeking shelter in the absence of security forces, particularly in North Sinai. Egyptian Bedouins who were normally hired within the tourism industry found their opportunities –and incomes– shrinking.
Bedouin tribes have already suffered marginalisation by the Egyptian government. In the absence of gainful employment or support from Cairo, many have turned to poppy cultivation as a means of income. It is not a decision they wilfully make; one Bedouin man, father of four, asserts that it is “illegal, dangerous, and shameful.” Further, the income from the risky endeavour is low. Many of the Bedouin would prefer to raise legitimate fruits or vegetables, but the government has been unwilling to give them the mandatory permits necessary to raise such crops. So in its place the Bedouins raise the poppies. The harvested raw opium is not processed into heroin in Egypt; rather it is sold in its raw form on the black market. The raw opium is smoked or absorbed by placing it under the tongue.
Since 2013, the Egyptian Armed forces have returned to the Sinai, focused on an extensive campaign to eliminate terrorist cells in the region. As a secondary effect, forces have identified and burned hundreds of acres of poppies. The problem remains, however, that development plans for legal cultivation of crops are on hold until the peninsula regain stability, and anti-drug campaigns are sporadic.
Some Bedouins have been offered the opportunity to return to their ancestral income of cultivating herbs and honey. However, some fear that overproduction of the commodities could drive their price down and result in diluted profits. So far, only 60 families in the Sinai have returned to this business, and all await the return of tourists in the region.