In Sinai, Tarabin Bedouins seek to unite tribes against ISIS

Sunday 28/05/2017
Tribes to the rescue. Egyptian tribesmen head towards an area where ISIS militants are believed to be hiding. (Facebook page of the Sinai Tribes Federation)

Cairo - Amajor tribe is seeking to form a tribal coalition to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The Tarabin Bedouins, one of the largest tribes in the area with as many as 40,000 members, would urge the alliance’s participants to cease offering refuge to ISIS fight­ers and suspend cooperation with the group, with the objective of driving it out of its North Sinai stronghold.

“We have embarked on forming a coalition of all tribes in Sinai to kick this venomous organisation totally out,” said Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ergani, a Tarabin chieftain. “All tribes are now ready to fight ISIS side by side with us.”

Fighting between Tarabin and ISIS was sparked in April by the killing of a tribal elder by ISIS militants. Tarabin reciprocated by lynching an ISIS militant. ISIS at­tacked a Tarabin checkpoint with a booby-trapped car, killing six tribe members.

Tarabin has taken several ISIS militants hostage and killed oth­ers. The tribe has posted record­ings of its interrogation of ISIS militants on social media, with the ISIS fighters purportedly revealing information about their Sinai Prov­ince leaders.

Efforts by Tarabin to unite Sinai tribes against ISIS, Ergani said, have included meetings with tribal leaders, the formation of a unified stance against the group and coor­dination of battlefield operations against it.

“So far, we have struck deals with more than 50 tribes to fight ISIS,” Ergani said. “Some tribes have joined us, even without pub­licly declaring this, lest their mem­bers should be targeted by this tak­firist group.

Animosity between Tarabin and ISIS could be good news for the Egyptian Army, which has been trying to obtain cooperation from Sinai tribes in the state’s war against the militant group.

Sinai tribes refused to cooper­ate with the army, experts said, for reasons including fear of retali­ation and the presence of shared business interests between ISIS and some tribes, particularly smuggling networks between Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

Sinai’s tribes have also gener­ally been ambivalent towards the Egyptian government. Tribesmen have felt neglected by succes­sive Egyptian governments, while Egyptian officials have tradition­ally viewed the Bedouin, who have cross-border ties with tribes in Is­rael, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with suspicion.

ISIS has become an existential threat to Sinai’s tribes, seeking to silence some and threatening the business interests of others. ISIS has killed hundreds of Egyptian troops and policemen, driven most of North Sinai’s Christian families out and is trying to push outside Sinai, carrying out operations in Cairo and Alexandria.

Egypt’s powerful military has found it difficult to deal with ISIS’s hit-and-run tactics in the moun­tainous Sinai region. The Sinai Peninsula is largely unknown to Egyptian Army troops, who were barred from entering some areas in the peninsula following the 1978 Camp David Accords.

This, security experts said, out­lines the need for cooperation be­tween the army and local tribes in fighting ISIS in the Sinai Province.

Sheikh Issa al-Kharafin, a chief­tain of the Rumailat tribe, one of the other major tribes in the Sinai Province, confirmed that his group has united with Tarabin in fighting ISIS. He also confirmed that Tara­bin tribesmen are acting as scouts and guides for the Egyptian Army in the Sinai Peninsula, providing intelligence about ISIS positions and bases.

“We know exactly where these militants hide,” Kharafin said. “We share information in this regard with the army and coordinate at­tacks against the militants with it.”

Cooperation between Sinai tribes and the army would represent a major turning point in Egypt’s fight against terrorism and the military group that has turned some parts of North Sinai into virtual no-go areas for Egyptian troops.

“This cooperation will surely end the ongoing war in favour of the army,” said Gamal Abu Zekri, the former assistant interior min­ister. “In fact, the success of the army in arresting a large number of ISIS leaders and militants in the past weeks boils down to this co­operation.”