By Arieh O'Sullivan


Cairo, Egypt

Egyptian authorities have widened their sweep against militants believed to be behind attacks in the Sinai Peninsula and southern Israel, cracking down on Bedouin tribesmen who have affiliated themselves with the notorious Al-Qaeda organization.

Angered for being marginalized and impoverished by the Egyptian rulers, the Bedouin have embraced the Islamist extremist terror network out of bitterness about their economic circumstances rather than religious ideology, experts say.

Northern Sinai has been a hotbed of discontent by the largely Bedouin population that lives there. But since the revolution in Cairo erupted in July, which ousted President Husni Mubarak, the lawlessness and lethal attacks have increased against the Egyptian establishment that they feel has persecuted and marginalized them.

The local Bedouin inhabitants have never felt legally or morally bound to Egyptian rule and their support for Al-Qaeda is not based on their acceptance of the movement's extreme Islamic ideology, said Avner Goren, an expert on the Sinai Bedouin, told The Media Line.

"I would say they are motivated out of jealously and anger, not ideology. While they don't have any conflict of interests with the Egyptians, they don't identify themselves as Egyptians. The young are being drafted into the Egyptian military, but that doesn't build loyalty," said Goren, who served for 15 years as Israel chief archeologist for the Sinai while under its control from 1967 until 1982.

Egyptian security forces announced on Tuesday that they had arrested another member of a militant Islamist group in Sinai, bringing to five the number detained so far since it nabbed the leader of the group on Sunday.

The man, identified by Ma'an, the Palestinian news agency, as Walid Suleiman Mousa, 38, was detained on his way home from his pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He was named by four other suspected cell members who had been arrested earlier. They were all from the El-Arish area in the northern Sinai.

Security officials told Ma'an that Egyptian police are in a campaign to crack down on the Jihadist and Takfiris movement and arrested its leader, Muhammad Eid Musleh Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Muhammad Al-Teehi, on Sunday. Egyptian media called Al-Teehi "the most dangerous terrorist in Egypt." The militants were reportedly sent to Cairo for interrogation.

The movement is suspected of a series of bold assaults on police stations in northern Sinai and the murder and disappearance of security officers. Some 400 operatives, including Palestinians and local Bedouins, are wanted by Egyptian forces in Sinai, senior Egyptian security sources told the Al-Hayat Egyptian television station.

The movement is an ideological bedfellow of Al-Qaeda and demands an end to any military or foreign presence in the Sinai Peninsula. Al-Teehi is accused of masterminding an attack in southern Israel in August that killed eight Israelis, as well as a number of attacks in the Sinai Desert. The Jihadists and Takfiris movement is also suspected of involvement in seven pipeline bombings in Sinai that cut off the supply of Egyptian natural gas to Jordan and Israel.

Israel has blamed the attack in August on Palestinian terrorists from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), saying they infiltrated the Sinai from their base in the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. It retaliated for the attack within hours, killing five PRC members and a civilian in a strike that sparked four days of intense cross-border violence that killed 15 Palestinians and injured dozens more.

In September, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth reported that an classified army investigation revealed the Eilat attacks were carried out by a group of Egyptians operating in Sinai. On Tuesday, former Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Eliezer warned that the conflict in the Sinai would inevitably put Israel on a collision course with Egypt.

"We must take into account that we may find ourselves in a confrontation with Egypt. We already have a problem in [north] Sinai, which has clearly become terrorist territory," Eliezer was quoted as saying in Yediot Ahronoth. Israel faces more serious restrictions in operating in Egyptian-ruled Sinai than it does in Gaza, he noted.

The Israeli army chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, told a parliament committee on security that the Sinai had become "an area with a wide terrorist infrastructure coming from Gaza and global jihad in defiance of Egyptian sovereignty."

During the years of Israeli rule, the Bedouin made up about 99 percent of the peninsula's population. But since Israel handed it over to Egypt in a peace accord three decades ago, Egypt has moved in tens of thousands of its citizens to the region and they have taken control over the prime tourism spots and filled the most desirable jobs.

"The Egyptians have started to disperse populations. They brought water from the Nile under the Suez Canal into the northern Sinai so there is no longer a problem of water. You can settle people and even do agriculture," Goren said.

"It's getting crowded and more and more Egyptians are coming in at the expense of the Bedouin," he added.

Goren, who lived among the Bedouin in Sinai, said Al-Qaeda is exploiting Bedouin discontent and is supporting tribes with money. Its ideology, however, has not penetrated deeply. The Islam of the local Bedouin is relatively easy going. While traditionally devout, Bedouin have never practiced an extreme or puritanical form of Islam, he said. Traditionally, the Bedouin cherish loyalty to their tribe more than to faith.

"They used to say, 'We have seen the Ottomans, the British, the Egyptians and Israelis and now the Egyptians again. They all go and we, the Bedouins, will always remain,'" Goren said.


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Sinai Bedouin Join Al-Qaeda Out of Bitterness, Not Ideology | Global Viewpoint