Home inContext Lawless in the Sinai

Lawless in the Sinai

Zachary Fisher

Two American male tourists traveling in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula were abducted by armed Bedouin tribesmen early Thursday morning, according to Egyptian police. The two men, both 31, were seized while driving in close proximity to the Red Sea resort town of Dahab, near the Israeli border. The Bedouins demanded the release of a fellow tribesmen who was taken into custody on drug charges, and they planned on holding the Americans hostage until authorities would give into their demands. Luckily, after Egyptian army and police spent hours negotiating with the Bedouins, the Americans were freed unharmed.

This situation is unfortunately not all that unique in today’s Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula. In recent times, indigenous Bedouins have kidnapped American tourists, holding them hostage until their demands for released captives and improved basic services have been met. And with Cairo now focused on Egypt’s uprising and post-Mubarak stability, it has paid little attention to the precarious Sinai, allowing Bedouin tribes to run wild. Certain Sinai Bedouin tribes are allegedly smuggling African migrants and stealing their internal organs to sell for a profit.

Egypt’s Sinai has seen an upsurge in lawlessness in recent months with Bedouin tribesmen blamed for attempts to kidnap tourists. (Photo: AP)

The Sinai has become overrun with violence as well by militants who adhere to a jihadist ideology. On August 18, 2011, the region played a part in a devastating and nefarious three-pronged attack launched by Islamist terrorists against Israelis near Eilat. The militants opened-fire at a civilian bus, detonated a roadside bomb near an Israeli army position, and launched a guided missile at a private vehicle — killing eight Israelis. The militants penetrated Israeli territory from their starting position in Gaza by crossing into the Sinai through smuggling tunnels, and from there into Israel’s south. The terrorists reportedly counted amongst themselves three Egyptian Sinai residents, one of whom was jailed under Mubarak. The organization responsible for the attacks has yet to be determined, but al-Qaeda is considered a prime suspect.

The Eilat incident highlights two alarming trends in the Sinai: the emergence of al-Qaeda and other terror cells, and the relocation of former Mubarak-era detainees to the Sinai upon their post-uprising release or escape. Many of the Mubarak-era prisoners have strengthened al-Qaeda’s presence in the peninsula. Salafist organizations are also taking root. These new terrorist organizations have launched rockets and fired bullets at Egyptian positions.

Egypt has a lot to lose and nothing to gain from chaos in the Sinai. The prospect of a jihadist-infested, anti-West desert does not bode well for Egypt’s national security, Israel’s security, or the 1979 peace treaty. A violent and terror-filled region would also be detrimental to Egypt’s lucrative tourism sector. For these reasons and more, it’s time for Egypt to take responsibility for ending Sinai’s lawlessness.