World Bulletin / News Desk
The Egyptian authorities have allowed local Bedouin tribes to play a role fighting armed groups in the northern Sinai Peninsula following last Friday’s mosque attack near the city of Al-Arish that left more than 300 people dead.
For the last four years, Sinai has become the epicenter of armed confrontations between Egyptian security personnel and extremist groups based in the region.
While latter accuse local tribes of “collaborating” with Egyptian security forces, the security forces frequently accuse young tribesmen of aiding and abetting Sinai-based militants.
Last Friday, unknown attackers bombed a mosque in the North Sinai town of Bir al-Abd before opening fire on fleeing worshippers.
A total of 305 people were killed in the incident, according to the latest official figures, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.
According to local media reports, several meetings took place in the wake of the attack between military officials and tribal leaders with a view to coordinating the fight against Sinai-based militant groups.
On Saturday, the Union of Sinai Tribes called on tribesmen and local youth to coordinate anti-terror operations with the Egyptian army.
On the same day, government spokesman Bassam Radi declared that northern Sinai’s Bedouin tribes had “a proven record in confronting terrorism”.
He went on to assert that any supporting role played by the tribes would be “supervised” by state authorities.
According to separate interviews conducted by Anadolu Agency with an Egyptian military expert and two Sinai-based tribal chiefs, cooperation between the army and tribesmen will be limited to providing intelligence and “maintaining security”.
Tribesmen, they stressed, would not be expected to take part in armed confrontations with militant groups.
Bedouin tribesmen are estimated to account for roughly 90 percent of the Sinai Peninsula’s total population of about half a million, according to Egyptian government figures.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, however, Sheikh Khaled Arafat, a North Sinai tribal chief, voiced skepticism regarding the arrangement.
“Egypt is not Syria or Libya,” he said. “We have a national army -- that we wholeheartedly support -- to prevent mounting violence in Sinai.”
Another tribal chief told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity -- due to security concerns -- that last week’s deadly attack would not “prompt tribes into becoming another army to combat terrorism”.
Nevertheless, he went on to emphasize that all of Sinai’s tribes backed the Egyptian army.
Adel Suleiman, a military expert and retired army major-general, agreed with the tribal leaders.
“Unlike Iraq [where local tribes collaborate with the government], Sinai doesn’t suffer from sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Despite the prospect of future cooperation, Suleiman did not rule out the possible involvement of some Sinai tribesman -- he did not name any tribes -- in acts of terrorism against Egyptian security personnel.
In late 2014, the Egyptian army evacuated the area between Egypt and the neighboring Gaza Strip with the ostensible aim of preventing violence in the border region.
The move led to the displacement of thousands of families living in the area, angering many North Sinai inhabitants.
According to local media reports, the people of Sinai remain subject to draconian security procedures as a result of Egypt’s ongoing state of emergency.
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