Cairo, Bedouin in power struggle

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He said that criminals and extremists would be hesitant to attack facilities or checkpoints manned by the Bedouin fighters because of the informal but strict tribal laws that prevail in the territory, including a tradition of tribal vengeance for killings. If a gunman from one tribe kills a Bedouin from another, he risks opening up a tribal war for revenge.

“My presence in my area makes it very difficult for anyone from inside or outside the tribe to approach me, even if I am holding a stick, because we deal with things through our tribal ways,” he said.

Others argue that this is precisely why a Bedouin force is potentially explosive, increasing tensions in a peninsula that is already awash in weapons.

“We refuse arming Sinai. We are not Yemen or Darfur,” said tribal elder Ibrahim al-Aryaf of the large Sawarka tribe of northern Sinai, who also attended the meeting.

He said Bedouin already protect their own homes and areas.

Former Sinai lawmaker Abdullah Abu-Jiahama warned that “people will kill each other if you arm them. This will widen the circle of security chaos and the problems between people.”

Bedouin make up about three-quarters of the population of 400,000 people in Sinai, settled mainly in a string of impoverished towns and villages in the north.

Decades of government neglect have left many embittered: The regime of Hosni Mubarak built up southern Sinai into a major tourist hub, but the profits have gone to Cairo businessmen and the employment to Egyptians from the Nile Valley, with Bedouin largely squeezed out.

Revenge motive

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 swelled, with repeated attacks on security forces, the military and into Israel.

Several times during the past year, tourists in the southern Sinai were kidnapped and held as ransom by Bedouin to force the freeing of relatives detained by police. In every case, the tourists were released unharmed.

Residents of Sinai point to 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 barbershop in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish over the summer. Sheik Khalaf Menaei was fatally shot by militants last month while driving in northern Sinai.

The killings were apparently revenge because the two were government informants, locals say.

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