Egyptian security officials engage Sinai tribes to counter extremism

Bedouin men attend a tribal council tribunal in al-Arish. [Asmaa Waguih/Reuters]

Bedouin men attend a tribal council tribunal in al-Arish. [Asmaa Waguih/Reuters]

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The Egyptian government began a series of talks with the sheikhs of Bedouin tribes in the Sinai Peninsula, in a bid to gain their support to eradicate terrorism and extremist thought among the region's youth.

The talks coincide with a security campaign by the army and police to arrest militants who attacked a border checkpoint earlier this month, killing 16 soldiers and wounding seven others.

Bolstering co-operation

Defence Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Interior Minister Gen. Ahmed Gamal al-Din made frequent visits to Sinai this month to meet with tribal sheikhs and local leaders.

In an August 10th meeting, Gamal al-Din appealed to the tribal sheikhs of Sinai to co-operate with the security forces in their campaign to capture or kill armed elements in the Sinai.

"The honourable people of Sinai have a major role to play in protecting the Sinai and Egyptian borders considering their proud history throughout the ages," he said.

Sinai resident Ashraf al-Hefni said many Sinai residents paid a heavy price because of the spread of extremism in the Sinai, as many families have lost a relative.

"The government must clearly identify its enemy and we will stand with it as a bulwark against extremism and its repercussions," he said, adding that the government has the right to hold those who spread extremism and carry arms against its army accountable.

Ahmed Oleiba, a writer who specializes in terrorism issues and who recently visited the Sinai, also highlighted the need for co-operation among people in the Sinai and security services in the effort to arrest the gunmen behind the recent attacks.

"The sheikhs know where the gunmen come from and how [these men] are recruited by [extremist] groups, and the proof is that two tribal sheikhs were killed by armed groups recently," he said.

On August 13th, masked gunmen killed Sheikh Khalaf al-Menahi, a leader of the Sawarka tribe, in the city of Sheikh Zuwaid in northern Sinai after he announced his support for the security campaign being conducted by the army and police.

Sheikh Nayef al-Sawarka, a member of the same tribe, was killed three months ago by gunmen, apparently after he released statements denouncing terrorism.

'A comprehensive approach'

Egypt's military campaign and the new talks accompany efforts to support long-term development in the region, including the allocation of two billion pounds ($329 million) from the government's 2012-2013 budget to develop the Sinai and the launch of the National Agency for the Development of the Sinai Peninsula.

Experts told Al-Shorfa that in order to eliminate extremist ideology in the Sinai, an integrated policy of short-term military operations and long-term economic and social development is needed.

"The beginning of the development process along with the formation of a popular front in the Sinai to combat terrorism could deal a severe blow to the gunmen, especially as the Sinai is a tenuous border region where security solutions alone will not suffice and must be accompanied by efforts to address the root of the problem," Oleiba said.

Bahey Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said the anti-terrorism campaign in the Sinai should factor in "political, economic, developmental and religious factors that created an environment conducive to terrorism, and exacerbated the phenomenon and its cancerous growth in the peninsula".

It is important to maintain constant dialogue with Sinai tribesmen and ensure they are properly represented in the National Agency for the Development of the Sinai Peninsula, he told Al-Shorfa.

According to Hassan, combating terrorism in the Sinai requires an integrated package of policies that begins with engaging the tribes and the people of the Sinai in the development process so they become guardians for their cities.

The values of citizenship also need to be strengthened in the Sinai, by giving residents full political and civil rights, including gaining access to government positions, enrolment in police and military academies, he said.

Hassan added that area residents are seeking greater economic, social and cultural rights so they are on equal footing with the rest of the Egyptian population.

Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, a theorist for the Islamic Group that issued intellectual revisions renouncing the use of violence in 2002, said takfiri thought often spreads in areas that lack resources and are rife with poverty and illiteracy.

"The proliferation of illiteracy in the [Sinai] helped to spread takfiri thought, given the lack of scholars or religious leaders specialising in sharia," he said. "Northern Sinai also suffers from high levels of poverty and unemployment, which created resentment among youth in the region and drove some of them to takfiri groups, who took full advantage of these circumstances."

The Sinai Peninsula stretches about 60,000 square kilometres and comprises two provinces, North and South Sinai. The region's population is estimated at 380,000 and the area has a wealth of raw materials, including large deposits of minerals like iron, shale, marble, and limestone. These resources are largely undeveloped.

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    ابراهيم احمد

    2012-10-15

    Terrorism occupied the top criminal spots because of the terrorists' acts, which have become a threat to the whole world. Many terrorist organizations appeared which have forced the world to wage wars on terrorism. Afghanistan was one of the countries that suffered this kind of criminal organizations which is al-Qaeda. It is causing the world agony such as murder, kidnapping and many terrorist acts, and also the hotbeds of terrorists that were in Iraq, where terror has been nourished and growing at the hands of unemployment, poverty, and hunger. The terrorists differed in terms of species and in terms of assistance. Some carried the banner of religion and governed, and they were even hostile to some homelands that have nothing to do with them. They considered America as the destination of their terrorist desires and we find that they directed a strong blow to America on the 11th of September. Where is the international security? Where is international control? Where are the honorable citizens? The curtains came down and covered all this in front of the poverty that plagued the people, and in front of the humiliation practiced by the governments. Therefore, terrorism was the getaway for them. Moreover, terrorism can be performed by terrorizing their own country. Terrorism has no religion and despite its different titles, it is one of the most important reasons for religious extremism, even if it is a factor of political fanaticism that leads human ignorance and backwardness. The war against terrorism still exists so far and there must be a strong attitude to deal with the terrorists in all shapes and sorts. We, in Egypt, have been through terrorist incidents which hit the tourism in our country. There were a lot of Islamist groups which are based on those actions and their names varied. There is the Jihad group, Takfir wal Hijra group, and others. Strife has spread, which could have plunged the people of Egypt, so we condemn terrorism in all its forms.

  • محمد مسعود

    2012-9-12

    The justice and righteousness which the Islamic religion is calling for are the best mean to push terrorism aside no matter what it might be.

  • ﻳﻮﺳﻒ ﺗﻮﻓﻴﻖ ﺣﺴﻦ

    2012-9-11

    Terrorism in the Arab world caused many problems and crimes especially in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Yemen. Terrorism has emerged in Egypt since the eighties, especially after the killing of Sadat and the peace treaty that Islamists did not accept. After the killing of Sadat, militant groups appeared especially in Upper Egypt, and groups like Takfir wal Hijra began to show. They seized control of the minds and were able to publish Takfiri thought in Egypt for long years. This thought appeared in incidents of assassinations of people in Egypt starting from the assassination of writers to assassination of politicians. Among them was the assassination of former Head of Parliament Rif'at El Mahgoub. There was a bombing and terrorist attack that rocked Egypt and the region. It was the accident in Luxor which targeted foreign tourists. The Egyptian forces began an open war against terrorism. Then, there were many individual incidents, especially in Upper Egypt, which were mostly between Muslims and the Copts that ignited sectarian conflicts most of the time.

  • ﺳﻠﻴﻤﺎﻥ ﺳﻠﻤﺎﻥ

    2012-9-10

    Before we talk about terrorism as dangerous and depressing, we must know what terrorism is. Terrorism, from my point of view, is any work or action that is committed by a person or group or country for oppression or coercion, whatever its purpose or goal from behind, terrorizes the innocent, and threatens their lives and property. The crimes of terrorism must not be attributed to any religion, custom or morality, as terrorism is extremism in everything and has passed through the Arab states over the previous years through several terrorist criminal incidents that destabilized security and stability in these countries, affecting all walks of life, and that would have carried all the possessions in those states and empowered all its possibilities in order to eliminate this reprehensible phenomenon reprehensible that results in draining all economic resources. Examples of such terrorist incidents occurred in our beloved Egypt in the late eighties and nineties of the past century which spread the deviant thought of some terrorist groups about the necessity of fighting the ruling regime and destroying it with weapons, and those who fell victims to this destructive ideas were the thousands of innocent civilians and policemen and the occurrence of these groups even killed many and left Egypt to ages of obscurantism, and we went several ages back because of those crimes. Among those incidents that took place in Algeria as well, as we see the state of these countries lagging always behind because the forces have become exhausted to resist the dreaded phobias and terrorism against some Arab countries that are known terrorist nations as practiced by Israel against its sister State of Palestine that has violated and taken away the rights of its people who were proud to live in their homes, safe from invasion and occupation of most types of terrorism and hostility

  • ابوسيطرة

    2012-9-6

    God is Greater than the traitor.

  • عبد المنعم عمر

    2012-8-28

    O God, make our countries and the Muslim countries in your protection! O Lord of the Worlds!