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EGYPT: Government shows goodwill toward Sinai Bedouins

July 14, 2010 |  8:59 am


In an attempt to ease tensions between the government and the majority of residents in the Sinai Peninsula, the Ministry of Interior released scores of detained Bedouins on Tuesday, including prominent activist Mosaad Abu Fajr, according to security sources in the city of Al Arish.

Novelist and blogger Abu Fajr was detained in 2007 for possessing arms without a license. However, media reports suggested that his role in backing Bedouin protests against the government was the real motive for his imprisonment. Abu Fajr's release is part of an Interior Ministry agreement with Bedouin tribal chiefs following a meeting two weeks ago. 

Other demands included halting what Bedouins called "repression of the nomadic tribes, the release of tribesmen captured for opposing the government and offering development projects that would create job opportunities" across the Peninsula. In return, the Ministry asked tribal chiefs to cooperate with authorities in apprehending terror suspects.

Despite being acquitted by more than one court ruling, authorities kept Abu Fajr jailed for 30 months under emergency laws. Hours after his release, Abu Fajr told Egyptian media that the Ministry of Interior has started a new page in dealing with Bedouins, adding that he will not stop his struggle until all 370 Bedouin detainees are released.

"The situation is very bad in Sinai. It is very critical and the government has finally come to realize that after a group of its own citizens took up arms against it for the first time," the 41-year-old added.

Also on Tuesday, the Ministry of Oil released a statement confirming that an oil services company will be established in Sinai to create jobs. Sinai for Petroleum Services will drill wells, lay pipelines and build storage tanks in the north and south Sinai provinces. The Ministry said the new company's chairman and half of its employees will be local hires. 

Clashes between security forces and Bedouins escalated late last month after a police raid targeting the arrest of unidentified fugitives in Amro Valley, central Sinai, proved to be unsuccessful. Security officers allegedly captured a number of women and elderly in order to pressure the fugitives into turning themselves in.

Armed locals reacted by opening fire on the police before attacking a Gaza-bound humanitarian convoy and setting ablaze three of its vehicles. The government also blamed Bedouin protesters for setting fire to vehicles near a natural gas pipeline supplying Syria and Jordan. Bedouins have long complained of discrimination and lack of economic opportunity. 

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Mosaad Abu Fajr. Credit: Al Destour