CAIRO: Ten more Bedouin detainees were released over the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, but local activists say the total 210 Bedouins freed so far is not enough to defuse the tension.
Egypt’s interior ministry announced Saturday that it will release 10 more Bedouin detainees in a bid to neutralize tensions between security forces and Sinai Bedouins in the spirit of the post-Ramadan Muslim feast.
“Eight of the detainees are from Rafah and two are from Al-Arish. None of them are prominent Bedouin activists or leaders and most of them were detained on charges of smuggling goods through the tunnels leading to Gaza,” Sinai-based journalist and activist, Mustafa Singer, told Daily New Egypt.
The interior ministry has released around 210 Bedouins since a July meeting between Interior Minister Habib El-Adly and Bedouin leaders to address their problems.
The meeting was held a week after tensions had escalated leading to shootouts following security raids on the town of Wadi Amr and surrounding areas in Central Sinai in search of wanted Bedouins.
The raids angered some residents, who then locked down the road leading to Al-Oja crossing.
Sinai Tagammu party member Khalil Jabr Sawarkeh agreed with Singer that the July meeting was merely a “sham” to show the world “the so-called unity” between the Bedouins of Sinai and the government.
“The minister of interior promised that all the detainees would be released, except 30 who are accused of terrorism and drug-related crimes according to the amended emergency law. But most of the detainees haven’t been released yet,” Singer told Daily News Egypt.
“On the contrary, since the meeting more arrests have been made on charges not related to drugs or terrorist attacks,” he added.
The emergency law, which allows the government to detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, was amended in May, restricting its application to cases involving terrorism and drug-related crimes.
Many of the Bedouins were detained under the emergency law before the amendments were made, some since 2002.
“This release has no significance at all and has done nothing to decrease tension in the area; we want a general pardon to all the Bedouin detainees,” Swarkeh told Daily News Egypt.
Bedouins have long complained of mistreatment at the hands of security forces in Sinai, an area sensitive due to its proximity to Israel and the besieged Gaza Strip.
Bedouins have also called for development of infrastructure and economy in the area and the release of almost 1,000 detainees held in detention under the previous emergency law.
According to local leaders, many Bedouins turned to smuggling as a result of the lack of economic opportunities and mistreatment at the hands of security forces.
“Security forces are the ones who created the outlaw Bedouins; there are no services, no infrastructure, the streets are broken down, there are absolutely no job opportunities in Sinai, except smuggling,” Sawarkeh said.
“When the detainees get out, they will be forced to go back to smuggling so they can earn a living. The problem is much bigger than merely releasing some detainees,” he added.
Many Bedouins were convicted in absentia for charges the Bedouins claim were “fabricated” and remain on the run from security forces.
“The Bedouins want the verdicts issued in absentia to be reviewed and dropped, but these verdicts are still the same, these are all seeds that will lead to a crisis,” Singer said.
“What about the fugitives who were tried in absentia? Nobody knows where they are or how they are living. They could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization or an intelligence agency,” Sawarkeh said.
Singer accused the interior ministry of using the Bedouin detainees as “pawns” to be released whenever a crisis occurs to help ease the tensions in Sinai.
“We want all the detainees to be released. But the government is using the detainees as pawns to ease tensions whenever a crisis occurs or when an occasion like Eid Al-Fitr comes along, which is exactly what’s happening now.”