An Egyptian Photographer’s Portraits of a Changing Sinai

In 2014, Eldalil settled in St. Catherine, where she would live for the next seven years. With the help of tribe elders, she established a community center that would grow into a volunteer-run clinic. She stayed because she felt, she said, a “spiritual connection” to the place. On one of her earliest trips alone, she spoke to an elder named Sheikh Jamil who was curious about her last name—the Arabic word for “guide.” Sheikh Jamil told her that, four generations ago, an Eldalil family had resided in Sinai before settling in Zagazig, a city north of Cairo, where her father was born. Initially, when Eldalil asked her father about the family’s origins, she was met with silence. “I come from a family with generational trauma: a grandfather imprisoned for years for advocating for Palestinian rights. A father, the eldest of six, was forced as a young boy to take over his father’s role in the family, and by the age of 20 went to war,” she writes in the introduction to the book edition of “Stranger.” Eventually, her father told her that his mother’s family came from Palestine, and that his father had Bedouin ancestry from Sinai—information that Eldalil took as an explanation for why she felt so deeply tied to St. Catherine. In the absence of documents that could attest to her family’s Bedouin heritage, Eldalil sought to reconnect with her ancestors through the community, and her project took on a semi-autobiographical quality. (As she admits, the “stranger” of her series’ title, drawn from a line in a poem by a Jebeleya poet, Mahmoud Abu Hussein, refers to herself.)

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