Egypt’s interior minister met Bedouin elders in a bid to smooth tensions after a surge in clashes between security forces and tribesmen, but some Bedouin leaders say the meeting has failed.
The Bedouin — nomadic Arab tribes of the Sinai — have often had a troubled relationship with the state, which has worsened since the authorities rounded up hundreds of young Bedouins following explosions at Sinai resorts five years ago.
Clashes have become more frequent in recent weeks as the authorities search for Bedouin fugitives sentenced in absentia for weapons possession, smuggling and other charges, including some who escaped in an ambush on a prison vehicle in February.
“The private and public interests of the people of Sinai is a major focus of the political leadership of the State,” Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said in a statement after meeting the Bedouin delegates in Cairo.
“The ambitious plan for the development of Sinai requires the element of safety to give investors the incentive to invest,” the statement said, adding that the government would not compromise in dealing with “criminal elements” in Sinai.
Hundreds of Bedouins in Sinai protested after the meeting, driving from village to village in small trucks and SUV’s, saying the elders that met el-Adly did not represent them.
“The meeting was a failure,” said Moussa el-Delhi, a Bedouin leader in Amro Valley in central Sinai. “Bedouins marched in protest from Amro Valley to other villages to demand improved treatment and the release of detainees,” he added.
“The elders who met the interior minister were appointed by the government and do not represent Bedouins,” he added.
One delegate at the meeting, who asked not to be identified, said the meeting was successful. The elders won a promise from the government to free a number of prisoners, he said.
Bedouins complain of neglect by the Egyptian government and say tough economic times have led more of their kin to resort to smuggling and other criminal activities.
On Monday, Bedouins and police exchanged fire along a road leading to the Awja crossing into Israel after Egyptian security forces searched Bedouin homes earlier in the day.
Last Sunday, Egyptian authorities accused Bedouins of trying to sabotage an oil pipeline with explosives.
Pic: Bedouin thoughts