Egyptian military officials blame Bedouins for facilitating recent jihadist terrorist attacks on both Egyptian and Israeli targets near the Sinai border. The government's media organ Al-Ahram claims that the growing link between terrorist groups and the Bedouins is based on mutual financial interests and religious sympathies.
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The 300,000 nomadic tribe members are suspected of using their familiarity with the vast expanse of land to provide refuge and training camps for terrorists. Egyptian intelligence officials believe the Bedouin and militant groups are collaborating in arms, drugs, and human trafficking operations, as a means to fund terrorist activities.
Bedouin tribal leader Hassan Khalaf acknowledges that al-Qaeda is beginning to infiltrate Sinai in a "coalition of evil. They do exist but not in the thousands, maybe 200," he told The Media Line.
He claims that Bedouin alliances with jihadists result from their mistreatment at the hands of the Egyptian security forces. Khalaf cites the fact that Cairo courts have sentenced several hundred Bedouin to life in prison after trying them in absentia for crimes they didn't commit.
Tribal lawyer and political activist Goma Sawarka believes a mixture of factors have led to the rise of radical Islam in Sinai. “Saying that it’s all criminals running around seeking revenge from the Egyptian security apparatus is incorrect. There is a group of outlaws which has allied itself with the Takfirists (fundamentalists committed to violence) as well as those seeking a vendetta against the police. Al-Qaeda’s way of thinking is present. But the al-Qaeda organization itself is not necessarily present," he explained to The Media Line.
The Egyptian authorities have alienated Bedouins by showing disrespect for their traditional culture, according to journalist Moustafa Singer. “The security apparatus feels 'why should I respect the culture of a tent and a camel?' Instead there is the stick, electricity, and prison."
Khalaf compares Egyptian insensitivity to the attitude of Israelis when they occupied the Sinai between 1967 and 1982. "The Israelis studied the culture, the tribes, the customs, and the common law. Because they wanted to know how to control you through your culture," he told The Media Line.
Another member of Khalaf's tribe recounted his more recent encounter with Israelis. "I was captured crossing the border illegally. They put me in jail for six months in my own cell where I had my own toilet and they fed me well and let me read books."
Relations between Egypt and Israel have become increasingly strained after each attack emanating from Bedouin and jihadist groups in the Sinai. Israel fears that Morsi is unable or unwilling to adequately maintain the security measures outlined in the 1979 Camp David peace accords. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has accused the Mossad of fomenting unrest in Sinai in order to challenge the Islamic regime in Cairo and destroy its tourism revenue.
Even the camels are part of the explosive security situation in the Sinai. A herd was seen walking alone in the desert, laden with heavy bags. A local Bedouin guide explained to The Media Line: "The camels are carrying 'goods' (drugs) and no one can stop them. There will be a war if these camels don't arrive to their destination on time."
Article by Sherif Elhelwa
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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