Al Dahaba: The Artisanal Miners

By Zeinab Abul Gheit

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In the Eastern Desert of Egypt, along the Red Sea and up until the border of Sudan, is where you can spot Al Dahaba, a group of Bedouins usually from Al Ababda and Bashaira tribes who travel from the Red Sea and Aswan governorates to track down and extract gold that is driven by the water in the mountains and valleys.

These Bedouins are called gold nomads because they move from one area to another irrespective of political boundaries. At times, they are joined by tribes close to the Egyptian-Sudanese border with the common goal of finding gold.

Dr. Mohamed Al Sharkawi, a geology professor at Cairo University and consultant for gold companies in the Eastern Desert, says that this group was initiated in Sudan about 40 years ago and were active in the Kormok area where gold is extracted. Starting as a group made up of a few hundred, now the Dahaba have reached tens of thousands from Al Ababda and others, aided by the Sudanese.

Methods of Extraction

At first, the Dahaba depended on a few simple tools, later learning how to use mechanisms similar to those used in mines. Now, they use electronic detectors that can narrow down the regions where the resource is concentrated and accurately define the depth as well as the available quantity.

6.jpgTo get gold through dried water channels, they sieve and separate the heavy fractions.

Another method, according to Dr. Sharkawi, is by picking the fine gold particles using a Mercury alloy, known as amalgam. However, this system is seen as harmful because when heating the amalgam to release the gold particles, the liquid mercury is evaporated. These vapors are poisonous especially when no specific precautions are applied during this process.

In the center of Al Arish Market, the quartz stone, where the gold is embedded, is sent to the crusher where a worker places the stone in the machine’s slot to extract the gold from the stone.

“People wrongly believe that we collect a huge fortune from the extraction of gold,” a Dahaba from Al Bashaira tribe says. “The reality is that we rarely cover the price of fuel for the car that transports us to the mountains. Even, if we are lucky enough to extract a fair amount, the outcome is distributed equally between the Dahaba, the truck owner and the owner of the machines,” he continues.

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Legal Issues

The Dahaba were raided by the army since they operated without a license. Recently, over 60 of them were arrested in the Red Sea mountains, confiscating 37 trucks, carrying weapons and gold. “We are obliged to do this because of lack of other work opportunities,” mentions a gold digger from Shalatin. Members of the tribe also voiced their concern about wanting to go about their job legally, mentioning that they had asked to be provided with the necessary licenses to establish a company for extracting gold and to employ the Ababda and Bashaira tribes.

Responding to their call, President Al Sisi asked the Shalatin Mining Company to legalise their situation. After being granted the license, they regretfully discovered that the company aims to purchase the gold at lower prices than the market. For these reasons, the Dahaba left the company and went back to their illegal ways in the regions of Marsa Alam and Fawakhir.

Later, the government proposed giving licenses to specialized companies for extracting gold from the Eastern Desert. “We rejected this offer because we can’t compete with these big companies,” claims a Dahaba from Shalatin. “In addition to the fact that the companies have advanced machines that will destroy the trees and the desert as well,” he added. Dr. Sharkawi attacks the illegal ways that are used by the Dahaba, ”The illegal activities could possibly affect the topography of many valleys in the Eastern Desert and put the legal mining operations at a high risk.”

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Availability of Gold in Egypt and its Benefits

Unlike the views of the Dahaba on the participation of the international companies in looking for gold, geologist Atef Omar, Deputy President of Shalatin Mining Company, declared that the international companies are of great benefit to Egypt as they have the experience to train Egyptians in this field. Another known Egyptian geologist said that besides the existing gold mines in the Eastern Desert, there are also 120 other sites that contain rocks embedded with gold.

The future is promising because for the first time bars of gold are being produced by local companies. In addition, 16 new mines will start production in 2017. Some national organizations affiliated with the Shalatin Company had already extracted gold and the rest are in the preparation stage and will start production in 2018.

Al Sukari Mine, located in the Nubian Desert/Eastern Desert, is a major source for the extraction of gold. It is a combination of an open-pit mine and an underground mine, with estimated reserves of 15.4 million oz of gold (Wikipedia). The oldest mine in Egypt and Africa is Al Fawakhir Mine that was founded by the British Count John Di Li Vision in 1955.

Before being nationalized then closed down, the Fawakhir Mine was producing nearly half of the amount of gold in Egypt. Regretfully, the factory was robbed allegedly by the Egyptian and African Dahaba.

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Some people criticize mining companies for not exerting enough effort in extracting gold. “In order to be able to impose domination in all of the regions containing gold, the Shalatin Mining Company should be provided with material and administrative aid,” says a member of the Halayeb and Shalatin Council. The company’s capital was only LE 10 million, whereas investments in this field need much larger funds.

“The participation of specialized companies in gold extraction is a necessity because the 120 mines which are still waiting to extract gold will provide the country with millions of dollars,” claims Dr. Sharkawi, who regrets that the most recent bids presented to the investors were not approved by them.

Dr. Sharkawi believes that specialized companies can follow in the footsteps of the successful Australian Company that was given a license to excavate in Gabal Al Sukari. The company’s work was perfected by drilling deep wells, analyzing core samples and establishing gold percentage maps. Their efforts were the most successful ever in gold mining in Egypt.

The expenditures were also tremendous and are being refunded to the company to start splitting the revenue with the Egyptian government on a 50:50 basis.

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Future of Al Dahaba

The technology to extract gold is now directed towards the invisible and nano gold. Few areas are under exploration even in the known main locations like Gabal Al Sukari, South East of Marsa Alam.

On the future of the Dahaba, Ahmed Abdullah, the Red Sea Governor, says that a mutual agreement was made in order to work under legal conditions and to sell the gold to the government. To avoid the use of detectors that may harm other minerals, they were provided with advanced machinery.

A promising step is taken by the government through a project that looks to establish a gold city to include a workshop for the industrialization of the resource besides a stock exchange for dealing in gold.

Information About Gold in Egypt

Egypt is known as the land of gold in the ancient world where the Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom were keen explorers of the resource. In Egypt, gold is found in quartz stones’ veins.

Gold is known to be found in the central and southern parts of the Eastern Desert in igneous rocks, which are formed from a molten silicate at high temperatures in deeper parts of the earth’s crust. It can also sometimes be evident in metamorphic rocks, which were subjected to high temperature and pressure. Dark colored rocks, especially green, are favored to host gold, sometimes known as greenstone belts, however, not all quartz veins are gold bearing. The change in the color of quartz from white to grey and black is a possible sign of presence of gold. The alteration of the green rocks to secondary minerals and the change of color to red, yellow and white is also a positive sign for the availability of nano gold.

It is noteworthy to say that The Golden Triangle between Qift, Quseir and Safaga, is seen as a promising area for future mining operations.

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