Upper Egypt's village of 'blood and fire' appeals for services, security

By Xihnua
QENA, Egypt, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- Villagers are walking around carrying guns and rifles for self-defense; no women are seen in the streets, the small police office chain-locked, and the village 's medical center deserted with only some decaying posters of medical instructions hanging on its old walls.

That is how things look like in Hamra Doum, or known as "the Village of Blood and Fire", one of the villages of Upper Egypt's Qena province, some 540 km south of the capital Cairo.
Like many impoverished villages in Upper Egypt, Hamra Doum in Qena complains about the lack of security and necessary services, and appeals to the government for development and infrastructure for a decent life.
"Since the 2011 unrest in Egypt, our village suffered more lack of security to the point that the people have to go around carrying guns to protect themselves from prevailing thugs," said Sherif Nageh, son of the village's mayor, rejecting Hamra Doum's bad reputation for weapon and drug trade.
"Like any people, Hamra Doum residents include good and bad people but the village really lacks care and attention," the 30- year-old man told Xinhua, lamenting that there is only one elementary school in the village almost without teachers, as they are mostly non-residents and scared to death once they enter the village's gate.
Hamra Doum is famous for growing sugarcane on its 2,000 acres of agricultural lands. In a vast sugarcane field adjacent to a mountainous area of the village, Yousry Abdel-Sattar Hassan, a 50- year-old farmer, called on officials to take care of education in the village.
"We wish we could see our children in university one day. We would rather see them carrying pens than carrying guns," the farmer told Xinhua, blaming the high crime rate and growing violence in Hamra Doum on the official negligence and the lack of services.
Egypt's newly-elected President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi promised in his electoral campaign that the development of southern Egypt is one of his priorities, and vowed to extend Upper Egypt's provinces to have both agricultural and desert outskirts and connect them to the Red Sea to increase investment chances.
"Upper Egypt will witness unprecedented development," Sisi said in May as a presidential candidate, describing the southern provinces as "the country's national wealth."
Qena's Governor Gen. Abdel-Hamid al-Haggan told Xinhua that the new demarcation of Egypt's provinces will nearly double Qena's area and will connect it to the Red Sea from the eastern side and extend it to the borders of Al-Wadi al-Gadid province westwards.
"There is coordination with security departments to include Hamra Doum on the development map, through security campaigns to seize unlicensed weapons and arrest outlaws," the governor said, affirming that the governorate has already started building a school complex to enlighten the villagers and replace their arms with education.
Haggan explained that Qena will have a real relieve by extending to the Red Sea, which will contribute to creating vast chances for development, investment and real job opportunities for the youth.
Most of Hamra Doum short houses are made of mud-bricks, while most of the village's 12,000 residents in different ages go around wearing traditional garments. Yet, distress, fear and insecurity cannot be mistaken in every corner of the village.
Revenge armed crimes are mounting in the village due to the spread of weapons amid poverty and lack of security. A few days ago, three people were killed in a fire exchange between two families in the village.
Mohamed Fawzi, 38, called on Qena's governor to launch a reconciliation initiative between three main fighting families in Hamra Doum that have caused a lot of issues for the villagers.
"If a real reconciliation is achieved, many villagers will give up their guns and residents will feel safe and will focus on work and production," the man told Xinhua.
Improving security in Hamra Doum is not an easy task, according to Qena security chief Gen. Hassan al-Sohagi, who noted that about 12,000 outlaws were arrested and 54 unlicensed weapons seized throughout the province over the past three weeks.
"There are obstacles for security campaigns in villages like Hamra Doum, including the tall sugarcane farms and the adjacent mountainous areas where outlaws hide therein and exchange fire with security forces," the security chief told Xinhua.
Though most of the people of Hamra Doum are keen on improving their village and cleansing its ill reputation, entering Hamra Doum without being a resident or accompanied by one is still a reckless adventure.
Anwar Ammar, a farmer in his mid 50s, said that the state should blame itself first for the spread of weapons in Hamra Doum and exert more effort to control smuggling guns.
"Despite the revenge issues in the village, we respect visitors and care about their security," Ammar told Xinhua. "Like any villagers, we have ignorant and educated people; we have respectful people and thugs. A whole village cannot be punished because of some outlaws."