Saturday, September 08, 2007

Continued Battle between Bedouins of the Sinai Peninsula and Egyptian Authorities

As a result of the failed response from Egyptian authorities, last Friday, Bedouins staged a major protest across the Sinai Peninsula roads against the mistreatment of the Egyptian government. The Bedouin are indigenous peoples from the Sinai area. Bedouins demanded the release of members of their tribes. These members were taken during security sweeps after the Egyptian government suspected the Bedouins’ involvement in terrorist bombings on tourist locations within Egypt. During the protests, police were under firm instructions from the government not to interfere. Despite the protests, authorities continue to claim that negotiations are in progress. The Bedouins have continued to remain impoverished due to the government’s lack of response to their basic needs. Even though the Sinai has recently encountered a tourist boom, Bedouins have not reaped the benefits since tourists usually vacation near the coasts. One of the demands the Bedouins have made include assistance in economic development of the Sinai Peninsula. The employment opportunities in this region are scarce.

The recent protest has been one of many demonstrations that have occurred over the past several years. Although the most recent strike did not involve bloodshed, the Bedouins have not always been so lucky. In April, two Bedouin tribesmen were killed during a sit-in demonstration. The Bedouin have faced a continuous plight in struggling for their rights in Egypt. There are an estimated 380,000 Bedouins in Egypt. Egypt’s total population is 80 million. Progress looked promising after the governor of North Sinai promised to look into the Bedouin complaints. However, the governor later reversed his promise and ridiculed the Bedouin by calling them “outlaws and smugglers.” The Bedouins have been persistent in fighting for their rights as Egyptian people. They will most assuredly continue to stage protests until their needs are heard and met.

The tension initially arose between the Bedouin and government authorities after a triple bomb attack on a resort town, Taba. During this attack, several foreign tourists were killed. After the bombings, there was a mass imprisonment of local Bedouin tribesmen, several police investigations and raids on Bedouin homes, and random killings. The tension escalated after the bombing of another tourist site, Sharm el-Sheikh. However, there was no clear evidence that the Bedouin tribes were linked to these bombings. The government did not solely suspect the Bedouin, they also suspected al-Qaeda members.

Fear quickly rose in the tourist industry after the attacks. These bombings took place while roughly 15,000 Israelis were visiting the tourist sites during a religious holiday. Soon after the attacks, many hotel owners complained of their cancellations and vacant rooms. Even though Egypt may have suffered an immediate dent in their tourism industry, economists suspected that these effects would not be long term. In fact, Israeli tourists count for less than 1% of all Egyptian tourism. Although the bombings may have worried Egyptian workers, the tourist industry will most likely continue to boom.

Although the long term prospect is still promising, Egypt lost approximately over a billion dollars during the 2005 bombings. The feeling of unease in traveling to the Middle East has still not hit Egypt as hard as other Middle Eastern countries. Egypt’s leading tourist industry makes well over $3.5 billion every year. But the Bedouin have yet to gain from the benefits of the tourist industry. Many Bedouins have expressed the feeling of refugee status in their own country. Tension between the Bedouins and government authorities will most likely continue to increase. In fact, Bedouin demonstrations may continue to get more and more violent as their cries for help from the government go unheard.

For Discussion:
Will government aid actually help the Bedouin tribes become more prosperous even though tourism is focused on the coast rather than the internal parts of Egypt? If conflicts continue to rise in the surrounding Middle Eastern countries, will Egypt’s economy suffer? Has Egypt become the safer haven in the Middle East?

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