The government’s main way of dealing with the Bedouin was through the security forces, which launched heavy-handed crackdowns over smuggling and militant activity and recruited some Bedouin to work as informants. After Mubarak’s fall, police largely retreated and violence has swelled, with repeated attacks on security forces, the military and into Israel. The past year saw a number of kidnappings of tourists in the southern Sinai, who were held as ransom by Bedouin to force the freeing of relatives detained by police. In every case, the tourists have been released unharmed.
Residents of Sinai point to recent cases of violence as a sign of what may come if a local security force is created. A respected tribesman, Nayef Abu-Qabal, was shot dead while he was having his hair trimmed in a barber shop in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish over the summer. Sheik Khalaf Menaei was shot dead by militants last month while driving in northern Sinai. The killings were apparently revenge because the two were government informants, locals say.
Egypt’s authorities have ‘‘perceived tribal loyalties as a threat to national ones,’’ the London-based Chatham House said in a September report on Sinai, titled ‘‘Sinai: The Buffer Erodes.’’ It urged the government to negotiate a new compact with Bedouins by providing for a more equitable distribution of power and resources, including legislation to allow the Bedouin registration rights to the land and compensation to those who have been violated by security.
Abu-Qardud argues that recruiting locals will help put an end to Islamic militant networks in northern Sinai and cross-border smuggling by offering local youth a chance to work with the government.
‘‘We see this as a right of the people of the Sinai,’’ he said. ‘‘When a kid is out of school and can’t find work, he turns to crime to feed himself.’’
In the late 1950s, then President Gamal Abdel Nasser created a Bedouin force in the Sinai known as the National Guard, which patrolled the land and Egypt’s borders with Israel, providing logistical support as well as guiding military convoys and units through the desert terrain. But successive Egyptian governments have eyed Bedouin with suspicion and questioned their allegiance to the state since Israel’s occupation of the territory in the 1967 war. Israel returned the peninsula as part of the 1979 peace deal between the two countries, fully withdrawing in 1982.
Ihab Youssef, a former police officer who now does security consulting, including with the Interior Ministry, warns that creating a new force now could be a precedent for establishing local militias in other parts of Egypt.
‘‘No one can be trusted to control security of just one area,’’ he said. ‘‘You are giving someone who already has guns more weaponry. I think it will be stupid of them if they do it.’’