Paramilitary: Egypt Mobilizes its Bedouins


May 21, 2024: Egypt is once more negotiating with its Bedouin tribesmen to obtain help with the possible flood of up to 250,000 Palestinian refugees trying to get into Egypt because of Israeli operations against Hamas gunmen operating near the border town of Rafah. This is all about the October 2023 Hamas attack on Israelis and foreigners partying in Gaza. Israeli intelligence forces missed the preparations of Hamas in Gaza for a major attack. Seven months later, the aftereffects are still being felt.

Since 1979 there have been two Rafahs, one in Egypt and one in Gaza. There are over a million Palestinian refugees from the Gaza fighting gathered near Sinai’s Rafah border crossing and most of them want to get to safety where they can find it, especially across the border in Egyptian Rafah or Egypt in general. In Sinai, which is part of Egypt, most of the population consists of Bedouins,

About 0.5 percent of 111 million Egyptians are Bedouin while 3.5 percent of 9.8 million Israelis are Bedouin. In Israel the Bedouin do much better than those in Egypt. Educational and job opportunities are much better in Israel, while Israeli Bedouin get along much better with the security forces than in Egypt. Israel also has more Bedouin in the army and police than does Egypt. Smuggling is illegal on both sides of the border. Bedouin dominate it and realize that helping the security forces prevent Islamic terrorists from crossing the border means less military and police attention to the more traditional and lucrative smuggling of consumer goods and illegal migrants.

Most of the Bedouin live in the Sinai Peninsula, which is controlled by Egypt with some eastern portions controlled by Israel. As a result of the 1967 Arab Israeli war, Israel controlled all of Sinai from 1967 to 1982, when the Egyptian-Israel peace deal included returning control of Sinai to Egypt. There are 30 Bedouin tribes in Sinai, where the total population is 600,000. Most Sinai residents belong to one of the tribes.

In April 2024 the Egyptian army and the five largest Bedouin tribes in Sinai formed the Arab Tribes Union, or ATU. The paramilitary Union of Sinai Tribes (UST) works with the Egyptian military to police Sinai. UST was created in 2015 to deal with Islamic terrorists in Sinai and was once more dealing with Islamic terrorists in 2022. Now tribes are being asked to help keep Hamas gunmen out of Egypt and help settle Palestinian refugees in Egypt and Gaza.

The tribes are willing to help as long as the Egyptians provide military and economic aid. There is still a problem with Palestinians who belong to Hamas, especially those who are armed and belong to organized gangs. Hamas calls the gangs military units but the gang members do not wear uniforms. The ultimate Hamas goal is the destruction of Israel. At the moment the Israeli security forces are better armed, trained and more numerous than the groups of armed Hamas members. Israel wants to wipe out Hamas, or at least kill as many as possible. Hamas is on the defensive in Sinai and trying to get into Egypt, where they are not welcome. Egypt knows that Hamas will behave like outlaws in Egypt as they prepare for another attack on Israel.

The Bedouin tribes customarily offer sanctuary for fellow Arabs, but that does not include armed Hamas members looking for refuge from the Israeli military. Egypt also recognizes that some of the Palestinian refugees have kin in the Bedouin tribes and that makes it easier for Palestinians to find temporary, but not permanent sanctuary in Sinai. The Bedouin tribes do not have the resources to accept all the Palestinian refugees. Egypt does not want to accept all the Palestinians either. Egypt is trying to establish refugee camps and request economic aid from the UN so the refugees can be housed in tents and fed. Turning Palestinians loose inside Egypt is unpopular with Egyptian voters because it means more competition for a limited number of jobs. The current unemployment rate in Egypt is seven percent and the government has been gradually reducing the rate. An influx of Palestinian refugees would mean a lot of Egyptians would not be able to get a job or hang onto one they already have. The Bedouins in Sinai have their own economy which cannot handle a lot of Palestinian refugees.

Egypt is now building a 13.5 kilometer wall from the Mediterranean inland to the Israeli border town of Kerem Shalom to keep the Palestinian refugees fleeing the Hamas-Israel violence in Gaza. The Palestinians can’t return to their homes or what’s left of their homes in Gaza until the fighting between Israeli troops and the surviving Hamas gunmen is over. No one knows when the fighting will end but the Israelis are seeking to get it over with as soon as possible. So do the Israeli Bedouins, especially those in the Israeli military.




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