ST. CATHERINE'S — In the Sinai city of St. Catherine, a few thousand people and around 800 camels have been left struggling since the first week of August, when Egyptian security authorities ordered the total shutdown of the town's 1,500-year-old monastery. Bedouin residents of the mountainous area were forced to sell their camels, which they cannot feed, to feed their families.This has been very difficult both for the Monastery and the local residents whose income came from tourism. The report says that the Egyptian Government has not provided any financial help.
Over the past 50 years, St. Catherine's Monastery closed its gates twice, in 1977 when former President Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem, and in 1982 when the Egyptian military entered Sinai after the withdrawal of Israeli forces. This time, the shutdown, which wasn’t explained by any official statements from either the Defense or Interior Ministry, was allegedly ordered after a failed attempt to kidnap a monk traveling in South Sinai in June and rising suspicions of a possible attack on the monastery.
At the town's coffee shop, Mousa, as well as several others who have sold or struggled to feed their camels and a few tribal elders, agreed that the town's main request for the government is for it to provide townspeople with food for their camels, the community's most precious possession.More on St. Catherine's Monastery and its precious repository of manuscripts is here and many links.
A simple calculation made by the Bedouin gathering proposed that one month's food for the town's 800 camels would cost the government around $68,000 if bought at retail prices the Bedouins normally pay, an amount equivalent to that paid by 13,600 tourists for entrance tickets, which according to the monastery's estimates was collected in less than four days until January 2011.
"We are not asking the government for millions of dollars, we are just asking it for camel food, which would cost it nothing in comparison with the fortunes it made with the help of this community," said Mousa. "We don’t mind suffering until the tourism crisis is over, but selling our camels means destroying our lives permanently."