Watching the camel and horse charge of the 2011 Egyptian revolution broke my heart. I have been documenting the Bedouin that work at the pyramids since 2007 and recognised some of the riders, they were desperate. The pyramids had been closed for days and tourism is their lifeblood. The irony was they were trying to stop a protest that would topple the man whose head of antiquities was already constructing their demise.
“To the people with camels and horses, the plateau is like a plate of gold – I want to polish it but they just shit on it.” The words of Zahi Hawass, ex-head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities who, together with UNESCO, conceived a '3 phase plan' to completely secure and clear the pyramids of all the local Bedouin people.
The first phase was completed in 2008 when an 18 KM wall was erected around the plateau, fitted with 199 CCTV cameras and motion detectors. For the second and third phases a new entrance with museum, café and shops was being built. Situated 8KM from the Bedouin on the other side of the plateau, it would have taken all tourist buses away from the present town at the base of the pyramids. A concrete road was nearly completed for electric Dotto trains to ferry tourists around the site. To compensate and prove he wasn't being "unkind" to the local people Zahi arranged for a New stables to be built for a limited number of camels and horses, banned from the pyramids, they would have only been allowed to operate outside the perimeter wall.
A living culture was being sacrificed for an ancient one - and money. Working directly with tourists gave these men a high income compared with the average Egyptian, this had not gone unnoticed by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, a self funded body reliant on income from tourist sites.
Then, the revolution. Zahi Hawass went, the construction work stopped but so did the tourists.
The majority of the men working at the pyramids are Bedouin, no loner nomadic but proud of their traditions. Each generation must provide for the next as the the previous one has for them. "How will my son get married?" A rhetorical question I have been asked many times over the past three years. Until now the parents of the groom provided the house and the brides family bought all the goods and chattels. Banks are generally mistrusted and money is raised within the community through a never ending series of parties, each guest gives money, the amount recorded and the reciprocal amount or greater is given when the donor holds a party. It's an elegant way of raising a large amount in a small time and it constantly travels in circles around the community.
Apartments were built one on top of another and after time these grew into streets and neighbourhoods comprising of extended families. Sadly strange to my western eyes, tiny children would wonder in and out of the house at will, completely safe.
Now the atmosphere is changing. After the revolution the tourists fled, leaving hundreds of owners and thousands of animals with no livelihood. Ask any parent to choose between feeding their children or their animals. So many camels went to the butchers the price crashed. Horses starved to death, dumped in the desert for the heat and the dogs. Slowly, they are giving up their homes. Forced to rent out rooms to survive, the neighbourhoods are changing. Strangers are moving in, parents watch for their children, fights break out with the newcomers. The traditional lifestyle they tried to maintain has started to erode.
Now the remaining bedouin live in limbo, the 2013 coup ridded them of the Muslim Brotherhood but resulted in many travel bans to Egypt from western governments. Now lifted and with the military in charge the Bedouin hope for a period of stability. They hope for an end to the present uncertainty in Egypt and a new government, they must also hope that a new government will not finish the nearly completed construction work and expel them.