Sinai's Bedouins and the MFO

Bedouin Standoff Raises Tensions in Egypt - WSJ.com:

CAIRO—Hundreds of heavily armed Bedouins, pressing to release kinsmen from Egyptian prisons, have peacefully blockaded a multinational observer mission in Egypt's Sinai Desert for six days, the mission said Thursday.

The mission's approximately 1,600 soldiers from 12 countries including the U.S. are armed, but their primary duty—to oversee compliance with the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty—doesn't allow them to fight the Bedouins. The soldiers are able to ferry people and supplies to and from the base by helicopter.

The desert dwellers are demanding the Egyptian government release their brethren who they say were unfairly convicted by an Egyptian court for alleged attacks in the Sinai cities of Taba in 2004 and in Sharm Al Sheikh the following year. The bombings, which targeted Israeli tourists, killed nearly 100 people.

A couple things on the story:

First, the MFO are the biggest employer in North Sinai. By barricading them, these Bedouins are hurting their own community's interests.

But I find it disturbing that the Egyptian government is actually negotiating with them, not  not because that might not be some good reasons to release the people  who are now in prison, but also because negotiations reward illegal activity such as barricading the base. Over the last year if not before, this has been the chief approach to the Bedouins' demands:  deal with them even if they're breaking the law.

This is clearly what the Bedouins have wanted, and I find this attitude deeply worrisome–just check out the end quote in the story:

But many tribal leaders and activists say the region's residents will not be quiet until the Cairo government respects their unique minority rights.

"This is what happens when city people put the rules over the desert," said Mosaad Abu Fajr, a well-known Bedouin blogger from the Sinai Peninsula. "They need to understand that they need to leave the desert to put its own rules, which won't contradict the laws of the country."

Sinai's Bedouins definitely have legitimate grievances and have suffered from much injustice and neglect, but they shouldn't get to live by their own “desert” rules–they should live under the same rules as everyone else.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.