Good morning, Sinai: Lord Cromer report, 1905

Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm), Monday 22 Apr 2013

In celebration of Sinai Liberation Day 25 April, Ahram Online re-prints throughout the month a series of articles as history was being made; this one on Lord Cromer's report in 1905 on Sinai

Sinai Peninsula

With this month marking Sinai Liberation Day (25 April), Ahram Online sails back in time to celebrate the rich heritage of The Land of Turquoise, whose liberation cost the lives of Egypt’s finest. Ahram Online presents to our readers a series of articles published in Al-Ahram daily newspaper as history was being made.

Today, Egypt's strategic Sinai Peninsula has suffered greatly this past year - and continues to suffer - from a security vacuum and frequent fundamentalist attacks.

In Al-Ahram’s newspaper in 1914, an article on the social history of Sinai was translated from Time magazine quoting Lord Cromer, Consul- General of Egypt as a part of his general report on the two countries back in 1905.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

"Recently, the Egyptian government decided to attend to the needs of Sinai after years of negligence for numerous reasons. This peninsula is the residence of some 30 thousand inhabitants scattered among tribes - all from Arab (Bedouin) origin, except for one Al Gabalia tribe. Al-Gabalia tribe’s origins are believed to go back to the soldiers Emperor Youstenianous summoned to protect the Sinai Monastery in the sixth century from raids from natives.

Such tribes live by unique customs and old traditions, some of which are:

Al diya (blood money) is applicable during times of peace. If a person kills another, the father of the victim down to relatives of the fifth degree, from his father’s side, have the right either to retaliate or to forgive, in return for Al diya (41 camels).

If the victim and the killer are from the same village, then the family of the killer are obliged to let one of their women marry into the family of the victim without any dawry and stays with him until she bares a son. Only then is she free to stay with her husband or to go back to her family. If she stays, her marriage vows are renewed and she has the right to a dawry that amounts to five camels.

Apparently, they have a rather complex judicial system in Sinai, where each judge is appointed to a certain type of feud, one of which is Al- Mabshaa (the judge who rules in criminal cases that have no witnesses).

In this case, the judge tests the suspect with one of three items: fire, water or dreams.

Fire: The judge puts an iron pan on fire until it turns red. Then he wipes it with his hands three times and asks the suspect to lick it three times. If his tongue gets burnt, then he is guilty because it is believed that the criminal’s fear  of the truth leads his mouth to be dry. The innocent, on the other hand, will be protected by the moisture of his tongue.

Water: Al-Mobshaa sits among the suspect and the audience in a circle. In the middle of the circle is a pot of water.  Somehow, through magic or hypnosis, the water pot moves around among the audience and  if it returns to the suspect, then he is guilty, if it returns to the judge, then he is innocent.

Dreams: Al- Mobashaa goes to sleep and sees in his dreams (vision) whether the suspect is guilty.

As for the marriage customs: the dawry is usually 5 camels that are given to the father of the bride. Once the father gets them, he hands the husband-to-be a small tree branch saying: "This is my daughter’s branch, the one I gave you as a wife following God’s sunna and the Prophet. You have to provide for her with food, clothes and all her needs."

Though the bride is never asked her opinion regarding her first marriage, she goes with him on honeymoon away from the tribe. However, if she does not like her husband she is free to go to her relative’s house, which is considered a divorce. A divorced woman is never forced to marry someone she does not like."

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