During the second month of Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018 the Armed Forces have continued to distribute free daily food rations to people in Arish.
The food convoys set off from the headquarters of the North Sinai Security Sector and head towards various distribution locations in Arish.
On reaching the city one convoy heads to 23 July Street in downtown Arish, a second heads to the northern part of the city and a third to the Zohour neighbourhood of Masaaid.
The entire food distribution process takes five hours.
As soon as the caravans arrive people queue up in two lines, one for men, one for women. “We go to a different location everyday to make sure the rations reach the largest number of people possible,” says one of the officers overseeing the distribution.
“This is the first time that I have obtained the food quota provided by the army. But I know that it is distributed daily in places near here. This type of attention to the human dimension increases our sense that the government cares for the people and that the campaign is not all about the military aspect,” says Mohamed Radi, a young man in his 20s queuing for rations.
The food distributed is intended to help people overcome shortages in some commodities, but also to supplement the diets of those who find the available food too expensive. The latter is the case with Mohamed Al-Azazi, an elderly man in a wheel chair.
“I have nine family members and our means are limited. We thank God for the army’s distribution of free goods. Some of these goods might be available in the shops but the prices would be very high,” he says.
People interviewed all said that while the food packages were a great help it would be better if they included more fresh vegetables. What vegetables can be found in markets are often very expensive.
“If the army could bring in vegetables from Beir Al-Abd it would be a great help in providing well balanced meals for my children,” says one woman.
The packages are not limited to the residents of the area in which they are being distributed and no identification documents need be shown to access the rations.
One woman said she had come from the Dahiya neighbourhood, some distance from where the food was being distributed, and was en route to another destination when she spotted the caravan and broke her journey.
The long queues occasionally erupt into spates of pushing and shoving until an officer arrives to restore order.
There are also manifestations of kindness, especially towards the elderly or those with special needs. Often an officer or conscript would take a package to an elderly person unable to queue.
For many residents of North Sinai the inconvenience of queuing, or indeed of food shortages, is nothing compared to the hardships they have suffered due to terrorism. The restoration of security and stability is the main reason they are willing to endure the current, lesser hardship.
Normal daily life is slowly resuming in Arish even as security forces continue with combing operations. One woman said COS 2018 had revived hopes that terrorism will be eliminated from the peninsula, making it easy for her to bear the difficulties caused by shortages in foodstuffs and other consumables.
“At first I did not expect things would change. But we have begun to sense a change and feel that we will finally be free of the takfiris who made our lives miserable,” she says.
Hazem Al-Shorbagi, an elderly resident of the area, agrees. The situation is much better, he says, now people feel that security is being restored, and another two or three months of hardship in return for the total elimination of takfiris would be well worth it.
The woman from Dahiya is equally positive: “The combing patrols continue around the clock which gives us a sense of security. We feel a return to normal life is just around the corner.”
According to Moqbil Mohamed, a Bedouin from Arish, locals “form a single front with the army in the fight for the restoration of security and stability”.
Mohamed says he is willing to endure hardship, including food shortages, because he knows the army is fighting outside forces, not just takfiris.
“They took advantage of the period of anarchy to infiltrate through tunnels from Gaza and across the western border with Libya. That is what makes us realise that the battle is not easy. It is our fate,” he says.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly
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