Traditional Siwan festivals rooted in Sufism are anathema to the Salafists who have become increasingly powerful in the oasis since the 2011 Revolution. Believing that Muslims should only celebrate Islamic New Year, the Prophet’s birthday and the end of Ramadan, they regard other moulids as akin to paganism and have now succeeded in putting an end to the traditional Moulid at-Tagmigra (honouring Siwa’s patron sheikh, Sidi Suleyman) and Ashura celebrations for children, with singing and torchlit processions.
Other Siwans have, however, so far ignored their demands to abolish Eid el-Siyaha, when around ten thousand people gather at Jebel Dakhrour to celebrate the date harvest with three days of festivities. Quarrels are resolved, friendships renewed, and everyone partakes of a huge feast after the noon prayer, blessed by a sheikh from Sidi Barrani. Many outsiders come too, and are made welcome – though women should keep a respectful distance from the circles of men performing Sufi zikrs. Siyaha occurs during the period of the full moon in October, unless this coincides with Ramadan, in which case it’s postponed until November. It’s wise to reserve a room well in advance and get there several days early, as buses to the oasis fill up nearer the time.
Another event – far from traditional – is the Siwan Art Project, founded by the enterprising Nematalla. Staged every two or three years, the Art Project (featured on w siwa.com) has previously seen thousands of kites set ablaze on Dakhrour and a “Ship of Siwa” launched on Birket Zeitun. The 2011 event was cancelled due to post-revolutionary insecurity, but it will hopefully take place in 2013.