Life returning to Sinai’s al-Rawda, a year after ISIS attack

Approximately $9 million was invested in the reconstruction of al-Rawda. The village’s 792 homes were rebuilt or repaired.
Sunday 02/12/2018
Residents and visitors of al-Rawda village celebrate the completion of its reconstruction, November 23. (Ahmed Megahid)
Life trumps death. Residents and visitors of al-Rawda village celebrate the completion of its reconstruction, November 23. (Ahmed Megahid)

CAIRO - Life is returning to normal to a North Sinai village a year after about half of its residents were killed and many of its homes destroyed by Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

Hundreds of homes in al-Rawda have been rebuilt by the Egyptian government in cooperation with civil society and local businesses.

“The reconstruction of the village is having a huge positive effect on us,” Suleiman Salem, a village resident in his early 50s, said in a telephone interview. “Some people were just about to leave after losing hope that al-Rawda can be inhabited again.”

More than 300 residents were killed and about 120 others were injured November 24, 2017, when dozens of ISIS militants attacked the village mosque and homes during Friday prayers. Only a few people in the mosque were able to escape when they hid in toilets or among the dead.

The militants then went to village homes and shot whomever they met on the road.

Most shocking was that the attack took place in a mosque, which contradicted ISIS’s rhetoric about defending Islam and Muslims.

The Egyptian Army has been fighting ISIS Sinai for several years. Attacks by militants, most of them in North Sinai, have resulted in a large number of army troops and policemen dead and injured.

Nevertheless, the army is reporting major successes against ISIS. It began a comprehensive operation in February, which is said to have reduced the militants’ capabilities and scared them out of Sinai.

Egyptian government institutions, the civil society and the local business community are left with the mission of bringing areas ravaged by the war against ISIS back to life.

Approximately $9 million was invested in the reconstruction of al-Rawda. The village’s 792 homes were rebuilt or repaired. The five schools of the village and its nursery were upgraded. Local electricity and water networks were renewed.

Homes handed over to the residents, some of whom had been living in tents since the attack, were totally furnished.

“Life came to a standstill in the village before the reconstruction,” said Ahmed Hassan, the North Sinai representative of Orman, Egypt’s largest charity organisation and a main contributor to the reconstruction of the village. “The attack left the village in a very bad condition.”

The life of al-Rawda’s residents is simple. Some residents work in agriculture and others in livestock production. A fish farm was established in the village along with honey and livestock production projects.

Many government officials travelled to the village on November 23 to celebrate its reconstruction.

Addressing people attending the weekly Friday prayer at the local mosque, Egyptian Endowments Minister Mukhtar Gomaa said Egypt would win the fight against the terrorists, either sooner or later.

“Islam calls for life, not for death,” Gomaa said. “We insist to fight those who get off the true track of this great religion.”

The reconstruction of al-Rawda, security analysts said, shows Egypt’s defiance in the face of terrorism and its insistence to keep fighting until the end.

“It also reflects the presence of a strong will on the part of the people to defeat this terrorism,” said security expert Khaled Okasha. “At the end, the will of the people will prevail over the will of the terrorists.”

Nevertheless, the attack left an indelible mark on the residents of al-Rawda. Some suffer post-traumatic disorders. Some are afraid to pray at the mosque that was attacked. Others are afraid even to pass by the mosque.

The mosque was refurbished as part of the village reconstruction. Its walls were given new paint and blood-stained carpets were replaced with new colourful ones.

Salem, a school teacher, was one of few village men who survived the attack. However, his 20-year-old son and a younger brother were killed in the attack. Both were praying at the mosque when it was assaulted. Salem was home, preparing to leave for the mosque when the militants attacked.

He said he looks to the future with a hope that there will not be a repetition of the attack or the human loss he and fellow village residents sustained.

“We will never be scared by the terrorists,” Salem said. “Their ideology is death but ours is life.

11