And they're off! A desert tradition is still running
Spread out at the foot of a vast plateau in the Sinai desert, hundreds of excited Bedouins gathered to race their camels after a six-month break due to coronavirus pandemic.
Shrouded in a vast sand cloud kicked up by the hump-backed beasts, more than 500 camels were loudly cheered on by their owners dressed in traditional jalabiyas and headdresses.
Camel racing is a popular traditional sport across the Middle East and parts of South Asia.
And in Egypt, Bedouins of the South Sinai desert have kept up the tradition.
But races have been suspended since March because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
And orders only came down at the beginning of this month that they could resume last weekend.
The camels ran around a 2-kilometer track in the Tih plateau, completing it in a matter of minutes, followed by spectators and owners riding in SUVs to get a close-up of the action.
The competition “is a training for the international race, which should take place in October in Sharm el-Sheikh,” said Saleh al-Muzaini, head of the Nuweiba camel club.
One group of camels after another, in different categories according to age and gender, debuted on the dirt track lined by sand embankments.
On their backs sat mechanical jockeys — lighter than human riders — wearing racing jerseys and brandishing whips.
In a different race, young boys mount the camels to complete a 10-kilometer course.
Among the audience was 32-year-old Mostapha Abu al-Fadl, a geologist at an oil company in Cairo.
“When I heard they were organizing the race again, I told my friends how crazy, how wonderful it is ... we had to come and see,” he said.
To the Bedouins, the race is a way of keeping a traditional heritage alive.
“There was camel racing in the past, but we revived it” in recent years, said Sheikh Hassan, of the Alegat tribe which organizes the event.
“Camels will not disappear for us. We can use them for centuries. If the camel goes away, the Bedouins will also go away.”
Egypt has so far registered over 100,000 coronavirus cases, and more than 5,500 fatalities. Strict measures, including banning large gatherings, have been imposed in the country since March to prevent contagion.
Camel races — held every two or three months — often attract large audiences of tourists, visitors and Bedouins to the middle of the Sinai desert.
Sheikh Hassan, however, says the sparsely populated peninsula with its breezy and dry weather had been only mildly affected by the pandemic, and there were no coronavirus measures noticeably in place for the racing.