Omar Ashour writes: The story of the Sinai insurgency goes back to the Israeli withdrawal from the territory in 1982. Since then, Egypt has mostly treated the area as a threat rather than an opportunity; Sinaians are potential informants, potential terrorists, potential spies, and potential smugglers, rather than full Egyptian citizens. According to a cable published by WikiLeaks, a senior Egyptian police official in Sinai once told a visiting American official delegation that “the only good Bedouin in Sinai was the dead Bedouin.”
Cairo’s official policies were designed to control and disempower Sinaians. They included preventing Sinaians from owning land, subjecting them to invasive scrutiny, and limiting any developmental projects. Such policies were ramped up after the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. Back then, several Egyptian security bureaucracies — principally the State Security Investigations (SSI, now renamed the National Security Apparatus) and the General Intelligence Service — believed that northeast Sinai was sending direct logistic support to Palestinian militant groups in Gaza. Since then, repression and attempted co-optation of selected tribal leaders has ruled the day.
Things escalated further after the simultaneous bombings of Taba and Nuweiba, where Israeli tourists used to spend vacation, in October 2004. The SSI had almost no information about the terrorists responsible and therefore conducted a wide crackdown in northeast Sinai. With the help of the Central Security Forces (CSF), the SSI arrested around 3,000 and held women and children hostage until other suspects surrendered. “They electrocuted us in the genitals for hours before asking any questions,” one of the former detainees told me in 2012. “Then the torture continues during and after the interrogations. Many of the young men swore revenge.” [Continue reading…]