Sinai tribes threaten civil disobedience over new regulations on border with Israel

Egypt’s defense minister bans Bedouins from working narrow strip of land as part of ongoing effort to thwart terrorism

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Bedouin in northern Sinai, October 2004 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Bedouin in northern Sinai, October 2004 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Bedouin tribes from northern Sinai are threatening civil disobedience along the border with Israel in reaction to new Egyptian government regulations that prevent them from working the land near the border, an Egyptian daily reported on Monday.

The tribesmen are threatening to disrupt parliamentary elections set for early 2013 and to hold demonstrations at the border, unnamed sources in Sinai told the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Sayyid Harhour, the governor of northern Sinai, informed tribal leaders last week that they are no longer allowed to work land located within a five-kilometer (three-mile) strip along the border with Israel, due to the strategic importance of Egypt’s eastern border. Harhour assured the leaders that the decision would not affect them, and conveyed their outrage to Defense Minister Abdul Fattah Sisi, the daily reported.

The new rules are part of a major effort by the Egyptian army to drive out extremist elements from the border area with Gaza, five months after a jihadist group killed 16 soldiers in an attack against an Egyptian army outpost on the border with Israel during the fast of Ramadan.

The Camp David Peace Accords signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979 mandate a demilitarized Sinai, but in August Israel allowed the Egyptian military to deploy attack helicopters, armored vehicles and thousands of soldiers as part of “Operation Eagle” following the Sinai attack.

Muhammad Mani’i, a member of the Sawarkah tribe, told Egyptian daily A-Shourouq that at a meeting with the governor the tribesmen demanded that defense minister Sisi recognize their ownership of the land and prepare a development plan for the region.

But some tribal leaders were deeply distrustful of government promises.

“O people of Sinai, do not allow [the government’s] fine words and promises to seduce you… everything you hear and see is a mockery,” wrote Ibrahim Mani’i, the resigning leader of the north Sinai tribes, on his Facebook page.

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