Members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are advised to not use religious slogans during campaigning for November elections, Cairo said.
Opposition parties in Egypt are considering a boycott of parliamentary elections scheduled for Nov. 29, though the Muslim Brotherhood has yet to weigh in on the matter.
Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adly said authorities would intervene if the Muslim Brotherhood used religious slogans on campaign material, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm reports.
“If any (Muslim) Brotherhood candidate commits an act punishable by law or against campaign regulations, such as the use of religious or sectarian slogans, immediate action will be taken by the relevant authorities,” the minister said.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood took 20 percent of the seats in parliament by fielding its candidates as independents in 2005 elections. The interior minister said if they reverse course in November elections by running openly as Muslim Brotherhood candidates, authorities would take action.
“If any of them run as Muslim Brotherhood members, the law will be enforced,” he said. “They are a disbanded group that has been prohibited from engaging in any political activity.”
Cairo is facing pressure to ease some of the political restrictions imposed in the wake of the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. A 2008 measure prohibits using religious slogans for political gain.
While panelists at a Euromoney conference applauded the government’s efforts to drive growth, there was an almost unanimous consensus that social inequality is a major concern for maintaining that development.
Taher Helmy, senior partner of Helmy, Hamza and Partners, stated that the government’s trickle down policy “has not worked,” speaking on a panel titled “Investment Priorities, the Macroeconomic Context, and Visions for the Competitiveness of the Nation.”
He added that the low-income segment of society has been unable to benefit from the strong economic growth as much as its upper strata. “This needs to be acknowledged,” he said.
This dynamic has a direct correlation with the development of human capital, which if left undeveloped, translates directly into a lack of strategic leadership and vision for the country, stated Marios Maraftheftis, head of research for the western hemisphere for Standard Chartered Bank.
Affirming these views was a recently published Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, which assessed Egypt’s business climate.
The report found that Egypt scored very low with regard to the development of human capital, which had serious implications, explained panelist Ania Thiemann, senior economist and project manager for the MENA-OECD Investment Program.
A big segment of the population can’t profit from the economic growth due to their lack of education, stemming from a weak primary education system, which impedes these individuals from accessing financing.
One panelist however presented a more optimistic view concerning the glaring income gap in Egypt.
Florence Eid, chief executive officer of Arabia Monitor and member of the board of directors of the Arab Banking Corporation International Bank, explained that when compared to emerging economies Brazil and Turkey, two countries which have posted impressive growth figures following a series of economic reforms dating back to the 1990s, Egypt is demonstrating double the growth rate.
Eid argued that the trickle down effect “requires time” to reach the lower-income segment of society; and that strong economic growth invariably reaches the upper classes first, as they are better equipped and positioned to profit from it. Only after that do lower classes begin to feel its effects, there after creating a convergence in income levels, she said.
She added that both Brazil and Turkey had a much longer period of reform before any major political transition occurred, placing Egypt in a more “fragile” position in contrast.
Indeed, in both cases, 10 years transpired before either Brazilian President Lula, a leftist politician, and the Islamic party came to power in Turkey, while in Egypt, reforms were kick-started in 2004, and now, only six years later, upcoming presidential elections are creating uncertainty over a possible succession of power.
However, Taher also pointed out that the government is cognizant of this issue, and as such, is seeking to address it — and not due to the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
In the future, the government will strive to support small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs. He also mentioned that it was imperative to avoid any contradictions in legislation, which could negatively impact business and investments. In addition, he stated that legislation needed to be created that would establish an exit strategy, which would allow firms to file for bankruptcy.
Lahcen Achy provided his own two cents, indicating that Egypt still has a “weak fiscal basis,” as taxes are 15-16 percent of GDP, while in many other countries it is near to 20 percent.
The added revenue via taxation, he indicated, translates into more funds for social spending, which would correct some of the patent social problems Egypt faces.
Egypt has traditionally been a trendsetter in the Middle East. Although its leading regional role is not as important as it used to be, political change in Egypt could open the door to transformation across the Arab world.
And so it is with great interest that people throughout the region are watching which way the political wind blows in Cairo.
Is the Arab world’s most populous country on the brink of real change? The mood, at least among the elite and the politically aware, is that the country has entered an unprecedented period of uncertainty – and perhaps also opportunity.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, the ailing president Hosni Mubarak may not be able to stand in next September’s elections. No one is sure, however, who might succeed him. He has never named a vice-president nor identified a clear favourite.
His son Gamal is being promoted actively by the young guard in the ruling National Democratic party (and possibly more quietly by his father too), but whether he is agreeable to the old guard and to the military is far from clear.
Indeed, a recent insightful analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, entitled “Gamal Mubarak and the discord in Egypt’s ruling elite”, suggests an intensifying power struggle inside the ruling party. The paper argues that the younger Mr Mubarak’s political future is anything but assured.
The government’s take on the presidential election is that there is no need to worry – there is a system in Egypt and it will take care of the transition. That means that the party and the army, which is still the backbone of the regime, will find a suitable successor.
If not Gamal, then perhaps it will be Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief and one of Mr Mubarak’s top aides. In either case, there will be no chaos. Egyptians should go about their business as if nothing is changing.
That is a reassuring message to world powers and foreign investors, for whom stability is paramount. The elderly Mr Mubarak is not exactly a reformer and would be leaving a country in which 40 per cent of the population remains poor. But he has been a reliable ally to the west – and at least he has shielded Egypt from military adventures.
There are Egyptians, however, who are not satisfied with the prospect of sitting back and watching the regime sort out the succession. Though they know their voices may ultimately matter little, some of them are working hard to exploit this period of uncertainty. They want to shake things up a little.
Thanks to a more open media, social networking sites and an opposition campaign led by Mohamed ElBaradei, a former Egyptian diplomat and ex-head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, activists have seized on the presidential election as a chance to express their grievances.
Taboos are being broken. Opposition to Gamal’s succession is widely voiced in the media and, the more the young wing of the NDP pushes for its favourite, the more vociferous the protest against an inherited succession.
Meanwhile, with help from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, Mr ElBaradei’s movement has gathered more than 800,000 signatures, mostly online, for a petition demanding sweeping constitutional reforms. The petition calls for independent candidates to be allowed to stand in presidential elections and for limiting presidential terms.
Social discontent, too, is being more loudly expressed. Labour unrest, driven by demands for higher wages, is now frequent, and a new headache for the authorities.
All this activism reflects the collective frustration of disparate groups. It does not represent a mass movement, and possibly never will. But the presidential vote is still a year away, so there is plenty of opportunity for the opposition to try to make itself a factor in the decision-making over the succession.
The Amereya police deportment in Alexandria arrested three men from the same family and accused them of murdering two of the mens’ sister and dumping the body in the sewage after hearing rumors about her.
The two brothers and the girl’s uncle dragged her in a car along with her three-year-old child and drove to an isolated area where they strangled her with her head scarf in front of her baby, media and police reports stated.
Police said that they stabbed her in the chest and the stomach with a knife to make sure she was dead. Later that night, they dumped the body in the sewer system where it was found and taken to the corner’s office.
The deceased, Karima Metawe, 20, was married to a butcher who works in Libya and her brother and uncle allegedly had heard rumors about her leaving the house and going out, leaving her child behind, so they decided to take her life to ‘restore’ their family’s honor.
The murderers were referred to the district attorney’s office and their trail will be expected soon.
Honor killings are not as common in Egypt as elsewhere in the region, notably Jordan, but in recent months, more and more reports of women being killed by family members have been reported.
An Egyptian property tycoon accused of hiring a hit man to kill his pop star lover was spared the death penalty yesterday after a retrial reduced his sentence to 15 years in prison.
Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a prominent member of Egypt’s ruling party, was found guilty of the murder of a Lebanese singer. But the lesser sentence is likely to provoke accusations of political influence.
Moustafa, a developer behind the luxury suburbs for the rich that now ring impoverished Cairo, was close to Gamal Mubarak, the powerful son of Egypt’s President.
The Egyptian government has upped its security crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting 9 members of the banned moderate Islamic group on Sunday, local media and the group said. They were all arrested within a 24 hour period.
According to government-run media, three members were detained in Alexandria for “their attempt to revive the group’s activities, promoting wrong ideas and possession of publications containing beliefs that would endanger social peace.”
A Brotherhood official told Bikya Masr on Monday morning that the arrests are “part of the government’s scare tactics ahead of parliamentary elections this November and we will not be thwarted by their security threats.”
The official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said that “the members who were arrested will be a spark point to get more people to support our cause.”
All 9 Brotherhood members were handed 15-day prison sentences after being officially charged with belonging to a banned political organization.
The group said that Egyptian police raided the members’ homes across the country and took many books and personal computers.
The ministry of interior declined to comment on the matter.
Despite the government’s opening of the political make-up of the country in recent years, the Brotherhood remains banned and barred from political work, but its members ran as independents in the 2005 parliamentary elections, securing nearly one-fifth of the seats.
The Brotherhood is the largest and most popular opposition group in Egypt, but has faced continual crackdowns from security since winning the share of parliament.
Rights groups condemn the Egyptian government’s treatment of the Brotherhood, calling on Cairo to end its detaining of members and have demanded a complete opening of political opposition in the country.
This series of arrests comes only weeks ahead of an expected announcement from the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) of whether parliamentary elections will occur this October or November.
The opposition, despite the arrests and security’s heavy hand in politics, have largely called for a boycott of the parliamentary vote. However, the Brotherhood has yet to make a decision on whether they would boycott the election.
A handful of MB members have said that since the opposition continues to be divided over the boycott, they may field candidates to run as independents and encourage Egyptians to go to the polls in the upcoming vote.
It is not the first time and it will not be the last in which a dispute takes place between a Christian priest and a Muslim cleric, resulting in the spread of strife in a society that can no longer bear any more violence. The matter usually end with a correction issued by one or a clarification announced by the other, both washing their hands of the matter and denying their responsibility for the strife, which adds to the record of tension between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. And as long as the reasons for tension remain, more strife will take place and those who wish Egypt no good will ride its wave –joined by those who, lacking awareness, imagine that they are defending their religion, while they are in reality demolishing the principles and striking at the bases upon which their society was established.
It is also not the first time and it will not be the last in which the supporters of one sports team come out to smash what they believe to be the other team’s property and assault the latter’s supporters. Indeed, this has become synonymous with being a sports supporter in Egypt and in other countries. Yet the latest incident revealed the extent of the mix up between sports and “hooliganism”, between supporting and hating, and between sports clubs and politics. It has also confirmed that anger is no longer restricted to a particular segment of opposition members who feel oppressed or of politicians who find the situation unacceptable, but has rather become a more general form of anger that can explode from the mere presence of a motive to detonate it. A number of supporters of the Zamalek team came out protesting their not being allowed to attend a handball match. They smashed up the neighborhood of the Al-Ahly club, and then walked around the surrounding streets, wrecking the cars of residents of the Zamalek district, who might include supporters of the Zamalek team. They later threw firebombs at the balconies of homes, as if they had the desire to take revenge on all of society, not the Al-Ahly team or its supporters. A colleague from the Al-Ahram newspaper, journalist Sahar Abdel-Rahman, told me that the perpetrators were in a state of maddened frenzy, and that her car, that of her husband car and more than 30 other cars were damaged in the street where she lives, which is quite far from the Al-Ahly club where the match took place. She also said that although the building in which she lives contains two apartments owned by security officials, the assault lasted for a substantial period of time, and that although the buildings’ guards tried to close their gates, the assault was overwhelming. The assailants entered the parking lots of buildings and smashed the cars that were parked there, as if looking for a prey to vent the anger seething within them.
This is not the first time in which clashes occur in a political protest inside the Egyptian capital between those opposing political inheritance and security forces, but the latest protest revealed the absence of a protest culture as well as the rejection of freedom of speech. It is violence that has come to dominate the behavior of broad segments of the Egyptian population in various fields, and it manifests itself for various reasons. It is anger that has taken hold of hearts and is being fueled by minds. It is the desire to terrorize, arouse fear and spread terror by one party against other parties, even if the latter are unrelated to this or that angry segment of the population. It is the image of Egyptian society before the parliamentary elections scheduled at the end of next November. All past elections have witnessed acts of hooliganism and violent incidents, what then to expect of the coming elections, which will be taking place amid a climate of strife and a state of tension?
It is no secret that some Egyptians express their fears of an outbreak of security incidents that could take place, leading up to the inhabitants of the slums surrounding cities coming out to smash everything. It is no secret that crime rates in Egypt over the past few years have witnessed developments and “innovations” that were unheard of in times past. And it is no secret that some people feel that the government is weak and resort to taking what they believe to be their rights by force. It is also no secret that the belief prevails among many that Egypt is at the threshold of a decisive phase, which may witness unprecedented behavior and measures. And as long as none of this is a secret anymore, why do those who hold matters in their hands neglect to provide solutions, before such solutions become useless? …that is the question Egyptians think of and find no answer to.
The numbers speak for themselves: With approximately 40 percent of the male population smoking an average of 19 billion cigarettes annually, Egypt is hands down the largest consumer of tobacco in the Arab region.
In an effort to shed this dubious honor, the Ministry of Health enforced a law in 2008 requiring all cigarette packs sold in Egypt to carry graphic warnings depicting the hazards of smoking.
The (often gruesome) images are printed on both the front and back of every cigarette pack–regardless of brand or popularity–and cover half of each side. These graphic warnings are updated every six months with a new image designed specifically to instill fear in the ailing hearts of smokers all over the country. But two years on, what effect has this slideshow of diseased organs and suffering children had on Egypt’s population of smokers?
When Al-Masry Al-Youm posed the question above to a group of adolescents huddled around a Nasr City street corner, the answer came on a wave of derisive laughter and a puff of smoke. “You mean this picture,” asks 21-year-old Moussa, pulling a pack of Marlboro Reds out of his pocket and holding it up to show the image of a limp cigarette printed on its front.
Of the five images printed to date, the one that has undoubtedly had the strongest effect on smokers, particularly younger ones, has been the limp cigarette–a not-so-subtle promise of impotence, or as the written warning puts it, “marital strife.” Frustratingly, this effect seems to be closer to “amusement” than anything resembling genuine concern.
“That stuff doesn’t really happen,” Moussa reassures Al-Masry Al-Youm after pocketing his pack and plucking his cigarette from between his lips. “At least not from smoking. It’s all made up, just to scare you.”
Whether this is denial or sheer ignorance, it seems to be working for Moussa, his tobacco-enthusiast friends and, apparently, most smokers. From cab drivers to college students, kids in the street, and even a doctor–not on a single occasion did any of Al-Masry Al-Youm’s interviewees admit to being bothered enough by any of the images to seriously consider kicking the habit.
“We all know about the negative consequences of smoking. We’ve always known–how could you not?” asks Ibrahim Metwaly, a cab driver who has been a smoker for 40 of his 52 years. “That’s the problem. The pictures don’t tell you anything new, they just depress you. And depression isn’t good for you, either. Depression can also cause marital strife.”
“If we [smokers] could quit, we’d quit. But that’s why it’s called an addiction,” he sighs. “It’s not like I was sitting here waiting for a picture of a limp cigarette.”
“Besides,” Metwaly adds after silently puffing on his cigarette for a few moments. “It’s not right for [the government] to print pictures like [the limp cigarette] on cigarette packs. Excuse my saying this, but we’re a Muslim country, and it’s just inappropriate.”
While it may be inappropriate to some, the impotent cigarette is only one of five circulated images. Yet, the first three–depicting, respectively, a frail-looking man in a hospital bed, a child covering his mouth and nose from second-hand smoke, and an unconvincing illustration of a baby in its womb–have also seemingly failed to register, at least in the intended way.
After studying the three images shown to them by Al-Masry Al-Youm, 22-year-old Yasser Talaat turns to his friends and, pointing to the image of the child suffering from second-hand smoke, says, “If the smoke’s bothering this kid so much, he should go outside and play soccer. The fresh air will do him good.” When Al-Masry Al-Youm points out that Cairo is hardly the best place for those seeking fresh air, Talaat excitedly replies, “That’s right! The government should fix its own pollution problems before telling us to worry about our [lungs].”
“When microbuses stop polluting the air,” he says, coming to a conclusion after a lengthy discussion, “I’ll stop smoking.”
However, even the government seems to have little faith in that ever happening, as evidenced by the increasingly disturbing nature of the images: the fifth and most recent graphic warning, in circulation for the past two months, is a close-up of some unfortunate soul’s cancer-ridden gums.
“All the images before this one were a joke,” says 28-year-old Mina Magdy, who has been smoking since high school. “You couldn’t really take them seriously. But this one freaks me out.”
“They [the images] are definitely getting more disturbing,” agrees Amira N. (who doesn’t find the limp cigarette inappropriate). “I feel like the next image will be of a man with a bullet-hole in his head,” the 31-year-old smiles. “It’ll say, ‘Smoking leads to suicide’.”
For its part, the Ministry of Health knows it still has a tough job ahead of it. “Our biggest challenge is to change people’s behavior,” says Sahar Labib, director of the ministry’s Tobacco Control department. “Of course, this is extremely difficult.”
In order to successfully change people’s behavior, Labib explains her department has been primarily focusing on raising awareness towards the hazards of smoking, as well as “our right to breathe pure air.” Labib also believes in the effectiveness of the graphic warnings–which are modified from “international designs” by a team of ministry-employed artists, before being passed on to a supervisory committee and then, of course, the Minister of Health for final approval. “The image of the child protecting himself from second-hand smoke is the most effective,” Labib asserts. “Especially on parents who smoke.”
When asked about this particular point, cab driver Ibrahim Metwaly replies, with a hint of guilt, “I try not to. I used to smoke around my children. Now, I try not to smoke around anyone. I’m free to harm myself as much as I want, but why harm others?”
“Of course,” he adds, “my children are all grown up now.”
With years of irreparable damage already behind them, Labib and the employees of her department are striving toward a cleaner, healthier future–a hope shared by Metwaly. However, while the Tobacco Control department’s solution includes banning smoking in public places and improved cessation clinics, Metwaly’s is far simpler, even if the logic is a little hard to follow.
“If the government wants people to stop smoking,” he says, reaching over to accept a cigarette from Al-Masry Al-Youm, “then they should just ban cigarettes and legalize hashish.”
By Ayman Mohyeldin and Adam Makary
The holiness of Sinai is indubitable.
Prophet Abraham was believed to have crossed it. Centuries later, the Prophet Moses spent his life there and it was on top of Mount Sinai where he was said to have received the Ten Commandments. The Bible documents the journey of Mary, Joseph and Jesus across the peninsula en route to the mainland. And in the Quran, Sinai is mentioned more than 10 times.
Yet these days, the area’s spiritual significance is the only thing that Egyptian officials and the Bedouins who live there can agree on.
Throughout history it has been the land bridge between Asia, Africa and the sequential civilisations of the ancient world. Today, it has become a hotbed for clashes that no Egyptian government has been able to resolve since a landmark peace deal was signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
For decades, the Egyptian authorities and the Bedouins have been at bitter odds over their opposing takes on how to develop and govern the peninsula.
Human rights experts believe the conflict stems from a lack of economic incentives in the region, which forces some Bedouins to turn to illegal activities such as drug and human trafficking and the smuggling of goods and weapons across the border with Gaza.
“The problem also stems from the fact that there are services that Egyptians can enjoy, but Bedouins do not – and that comes in the form of proper healthcare, access to clean water and other socioeconomic rights they are not given” Heba Morayef, the Cairo officer for Human Right’s Watch, says.
“And apart from the tourism industry there are no other opportunities made available.”
Bedouins also complain that the government has marginalised them from modern Egyptian society. Today, many do not hold national ID cards and are more loyal to their tribal chiefs than the state.
Ziad Moussa, a political analyst with the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says: “The government does not take into account that they are dealing with a culturally different people, there is no consideration for their ethics and values in their dealings.”
After Israel occupied the peninsula in the 1967 war, Egypt’s national agenda revolved around regaining its lost territory.
Efforts to take back what was seized quickly became a symbol of national pride and in October 1973, Egypt launched a surprise attack on Israel with the aim of winning Sinai back. With the backing of Arab states, Egypt succeeded in doing so.
In 1978, the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt marked the culmination of nearly 15 years of Egyptian military and diplomatic efforts. A landmark peace deal came one year later, but it was not until 1982 that Israeli forces fully withdrew from Sinai.
Once back in Egyptian hands, Sinai emerged as a new tourism hub in a country that was already generating billions of dollars in revenue from historic sites such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The southern-most tip of the peninsula, Sharm el-Sheikh, started to compete with other global seaside destinations.
Today, Sinai accounts for nearly one-third of the country’s total tourism revenue.
But aside from its economic significance, Sinai is also extremely important from a geopolitical standpoint.
To the west of the peninsula lies the Suez Canal, a vital waterway for global oil shipments and trade from Asia to Europe and beyond. To the north the Sinai shares a volatile border with Israel and the Gaza Strip, and to the east at a visible distance lay Jordan and Saudi Arabia, countries which are of strategic importance to both Egypt and the rest of the region.
Because of its decisive location the Sinai Peninsula plays a crucial role in maintaining stability in the region, but the lynch pin to keeping the Sinai stable is the relationship between the Egyptian government and the local Bedouin population who claim they have been largely overlooked in the development of Egypt’s prized peninsula.
Ramadan, a south Sinai Bedouin who has been working as a tour guide since he was 16 years old, treks up Mount Sinai at least once a day. He says he would have preferred to become a doctor. But as a Bedouin, Ramadan could not dream of a job outside the tourism industry.
“First and foremost, we don’t think of ourselves as Egyptian. We meet Egyptians and sometimes we don’t even know how to relate. They’re people of a different kind,” Ramadan says.
Mosaad Abu Fagr, a Bedouin activist from north Sinai agrees, but says the disconnect comes from the government’s neglect of the Bedouins’ most basic needs.
“The Egyptian government does not offer us anything. Even our water is bad and our customs and tribal laws have been ruined so it’s no wonder that many people here have turned into outlaws over the years. All of this is because of the absence of a real development plan that the government should have presented as soon as they regained Sinai.”
Abu Fagr was released from jail in July after serving 30 months in prison for charges he denies.
“They put me with criminals, those accused of drug trafficking or theft, of criminal charges not political ones. They considered me responsible for all of Sinai’s civil society struggles in 2007. They even put my colleagues in prison because of these events.”
His release came after Habib el-Adly, Egypt’s interior minister, held a series of meetings with Bedouin tribal elders in June in which both sides agreed to try to improve relations. In the weeks that followed, as a gesture of good faith Abu Fagr and at least 200 other Bedouin activists were released from jail.
Many of those released, including Abu Fagr, had been arrested on suspicion of terrorism following three major bomb attacks in Sinai between 2004 and 2006 in which over 150 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.
The Egyptian government blamed al-Qaeda, but it was widely believed that Bedouins helped smuggle the explosives used in the attacks across the peninsula.
The government responded by launching a massive sweep of the territory. It is estimated that 1,000 to 3,000 Bedouins are held in Egyptian jails. An additional 10,000 are wanted by the government on what activists say are trumped up or false charges, which has further aggravated relations between the two sides.
Yehya Abu Nusayra, a Bedouin activist, says he was arrested with Abu Fagr “for no reason”.
“I have two sons who had to leave their high school education and work because I was not around to support them,” he says.
Many political analysts say the government’s heavy-handed approach to dealing with Bedouins who engage in illegal smuggling has been ineffective.
“There is a very weak state presence in Sinai despite the strong security presence. The only state presence in Sinai is a security state. You can’t blame the Bedouins for not cooperating with an organ that oppresses them,” says al-Ahram’s Ziad Moussa.
Abu Fagr says that there are more than 13 police stations in north Sinai alone, making it one of the tightest security zones in Egypt.
To this day many Egyptians consider the traditional and modest Bedouin lifestyle to be primitive.
“The situation is a result of a profound lack of mutual understanding, it is not merely a matter of security, it’s an ethnic minority issue,” says Moussa.
That some Bedouins collaborated with the Israeli military during Israel’s occupation has fuelled mistrust and fed a negative stereotype that persists to this day. But, many also worked as informants for Egyptian intelligence providing key information on Israeli positions and military movements.
The knowledge Bedouins have of the topography acquired over centuries of roaming the peninsula has given them an upper hand in navigating the Sinai’s terrain, allowing them to move with ease across the mountainous border with Israel.
In recent years, Bedouins have becoming increasingly involved in the trafficking of African migrants into Israel. This has created a diplomatic crisis with Israel demanding Cairo do more to curb the flow of migrants. Egypt has responded by adopting a zero-tolerance policy against migrants passing through its borders which in turn has drawn strong condemnation from human rights organisations.
This year alone at least 28 migrants have been shot dead at the border, 24 by the border patrol and the others by their Bedouin smugglers.
Question of survival
However, Bedouins claim they are left with few alternative ways to make a living in a region sorely lacking economic opportunities and basic infrastructure.
“For the Bedouins, it’s a question of survival, they have no choice but to turn to these illegal activities,” says Moussa.
And while the government has poured millions into the development of south Sinai, development in the northern region has been slow and irregular.
But Mohamed Shousha, the governor of south Sinai, believes the peninsula is heading in the right direction.
“The people of Sinai, the Bedouins themselves, have entered partnerships in tourism. They have become part of the tourism industry, and once they have integrated into this industry they will protect it along with its interests,” he says.
But Bedouins across the peninsula question the government’s approach and say the benefits from Egypt’s tourism industry are limited and cannot satisfy their hunger for real integration with the Egyptian people.
The need for Sinai’s Bedouins and the Egyptian government to see eye-to-eye on more than Sinai’s spiritual significance is becoming an increasingly urgent matter.
Egypt’s interior minister said on Sunday he expected upcoming parliamentary elections to be “heated”, warning that the authorities would clamp down on anyone who stepped outside the law.
“It is expected that the next parliamentary elections will be heated,” Habib al-Adly told the official MENA news agency.
“We expect there to be some illegal activities but the security services will not watch as some incite trouble and brutality in the elections,” Adly said.
Elections are due to be held in November, with a second round in December, but no exact date has officially been set.
Egyptian human rights groups have repeatedly warned that a decades-old emergency law, which gives police wide powers of arrest and suspends constitutional rights, could be used to influence the outcome of elections.
The law was renewed in May for a further two years, but the government pledged that the new state of emergency would be limited to the fight against terrorism and its financing and to combat drug-related crimes.
Some 10 000 people, most of them Islamist activists but also secular opposition figures, are being held under the terms of the emergency legislation continuously in force since President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, rights groups have said.
Adly also warned against candidates branding religious slogans during campaigning, which is prohibited by law.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and most organised political group, has said it planned to field candidates in the upcoming elections.
The group which is officially banned won 20% of the seats in the 2005 election by fielding candidates as “independents” under the slogan “Islam is the solution”.
“The Brotherhood will run as independents and if they run as the Brotherhood, the law will be applied and they know that,” Adly said.
“If they do anything that is punishable by law or violate the rules for electoral campaigning such as using religious or confessional slogans, immediate action will be taken,” he said.
The last parliamentary election, which saw President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party win almost 80% of the seats, was marred by violence and accusations of fraud. Eleven people were killed during the polls.