Demands come as Israel Counterterrorism Bureau calls on Israelis to leave Sinai, citing immediate threats.
The heads of Bedouin communities in northern Sinai are demanding the Egyptian parliament amend the Camp David Accords with Israel, claiming they do not guarantee national security and do not provide for the Bedouin population’s participation in security plans for the Peninsula.
The Bedouins’ demands were made on Thursday, when members of the Egyptian national Security Council visited the coastal town of Al-Arish to inspect the community’s economic situation and assess the security situation.
Earlier on Saturday, Israel’s Counterterrorism Bureau issued an urgent warning to Israeli tourists in Sinai, urging them to leave the peninsula immediately, citing a “critical and immediate threat.”
“Based on information in our possession, terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip are continuing to work energetically to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets on Sinai’s beaches in the immediate term,” the Bureau said in a statement.
Last May, the Egyptian government was presented with a program to include Bedouin elders in securing northern Sinai and putting a halt attacks on the Israeli-bound-gas pipeline. The plan also stressed a framework for dealing with radical Islamist organizations operating freely in northern and central Sinai.
According to the program, each Bedouin faction or sub-faction would enlist a group of at least twenty young men whose duty would be to patrol and report on any suspicious activities in their respective areas. These men would receive a salary from the security forces and will be incorporated into the regional police force.
So far, the plan has not been approved, even though it may provide a different recourse for Bedouins instead of weapon and refugee smuggling and assistance to terrorist organizations.
Bedouin leaders have demanded the deployment of helicopters to Sinai to track the movements of smugglers and terrorists, as well as an upgrade of the cellular phone network which is today largely dependent on antennae in Gaza and Israel. Yet their most important demand is to open a free trade zone in Sinai and establish an official and open terminal between Sinai and Gaza to replace the current tunnel-based trade routes – a step that would also provide employment to the local Bedouin community.
The Egyptian Parliament and the Supreme Military Council are aware of the security risks in Sinai – a situation that may prompt an Israeli intervention in the peninsula. The Egyptian government has recognized the need for investment in Sinai’s resources, and according to local reports has allocated about 100 million dollars for infrastructure, industry and services in the area. However, the funds have yet to be provided, and it is still unclear when they will be officially transferred.
As a result, Bedouins continue to be involved in smuggling and providing assistance to terrorist organizations in order to make a living – all while clashing with the Egyptian security forces, taking over police stations or blocking roads.
The Bedouin issue has also become a theme of the Egyptian election season, as all candidates have pledged in their speeches to develop the Sinai region and reconcile the Bedouin communities. “[The Bedouins] have played a major role in the war to liberate the Sinai alongside the security forces,” said the head of the National Security Committee in Egypt’s parliament on Friday.
Mohammed Morsi – leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, also spoke on Saturday of “our Bedouins” during a press conference, where he announced his presidential bid instead of Khairat al-Shater, who was disqualified.
Amr Mussa, the secular presidential candidate and former Secretary General of the Arab League, also promised the Bedouin leaders he would develop the peninsula, elevate the communities’ living standards and cancel laws which have held them back for dozens of years.
However, despite all these promises and declarations, is is doubtful that the Bedouin sector – 90 percent of which is unempoyed – will be convinced any time soon.