Sinai’s Suffering

The Peninsula Has Become a Breeding Ground for Terror

A woman who was displaced from the border areas of northern Sinai is seen near shacks on the outskirts of El-Arish, Egypt, May 2015. Asmaa Magui / REUTERS

After decades of relative calm, El-Arish, the capital of Egypt’s North Sinai province, has become a recruiting ground for the Islamic State (ISIS). On January 9, the group declared responsibility for attacks on two checkpoints in the city that left eight police personnel dead. Four days later, the Egyptian ministry of the interior issued a statement on the death of ten men whom it described as terrorists. In an operation broadcast on Egyptian state television, they were killed when security forces stormed their hiding place in retaliation for the ISIS attacks.

The images startled several prominent Bedouin families in North Sinai, who recognized six of the men as locals who had been arrested and taken from their houses about two months earlier. The families believed that the police had taken their sons out of their jail cells, placed them in an apartment, and killed them in cold blood to convince Egyptians that the country’s security forces were effectively combatting terrorism.

At a meeting of these families on the following day, representatives decided to refuse to attend a meeting that had been arranged with Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, whom the families dubbed an adversary. A subsequent list of demands from the meeting included the immediate release of all prisoners from North Sinai who were being held in custody pending investigations and who had not yet received court sentences. The council, no longer trusting the security of any prisoners in the hands of the Egyptian security forces, pledged to begin a campaign of civil disobedience if the prisoners were not released.

Since this is a tribal area, large Bedouin families represent the bulk of business, wealth, and residents. If the heads of the families decided to stop cooperating with the police and the army, for instance, the security services would be put in an awkward and difficult situation. This is the reason security is keen on good relations with the families.

Residents of El-Arish are right to be worried. After

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