Bedouins fear consequences of 'buffer zone'
RAFAH: “One does not know how far this could reach,” said a farmer in Egypt’s Rafah region.
Abu Taleb who owns agriculture land planted with citrus and apple trees says he fears that the intention of the Egyptian military to establish a buffer zone will swallow his land.
Egyptian forces are slated to clear the area of vegetation and structures in the coming days, in addition to removing hundreds of Bedouin homes in the area.
“This is the worst period in my 48 years in Sinai. Of course we are against all terrorist attacks that hit our army,” Abu Taleb said, indicating that the current security measures taken by the Egyptian military means further suffering for the population of the Sinai Peninsula.
The Egyptian military have issued an emergency declaration across the northern Sinai Peninsula, which effectively seizes control over the region and restricts the movement of traffic and commercial activities.
Abu Taleb is in the final process of picking his citrus fruit and apples and is waiting for a merchant to come by and transport two truckloads of his freshly picked fruit to Cairo. But the emergency declaration has made truck drivers fear approaching the Sinai Peninsula.
“Now everyone knows that this area is dangerous and no one wants to come here. Will that mean I am stuck with this season’s products?” he asked.
He knows that in Rafah, he has no market for it, given that many of his neighbours grow the same products.
Abu Taleb relies on the harvest season for his family’s living and this season is now coinciding with new security challenges. Not only is there the heavy bombardment, which he hears most nights between the Egyptian army and militant groups, but he also fears going outside his home during daylight hours.
This morning he heard from his neighbours that fuel is no longer getting to gas stations in the far north of Sinai.
“Only two gas stations are open, but I can’t get there” he said, and he is fully aware that this is only the first week of a three-month plan of the emergency declaration and it may get much worse once products run out in local markets.
The buffer zone will extend between 1.5 and 3 kilometres, according to official sources that talked to Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm al-Sab’a.
Since the ouster of former Egyptian President, Mohamed al-Morsi, Egyptian military engineers have destroyed most of the tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border, which had been used to bring mostly foodstuff and materials unavailable to Gaza due to the Israeli siege.
In the past few months, the relationship between the Bedouin and the Egyptian military has become increasingly uneasy. Sinai has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since the army, at the time led by Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, ousted Islamist president Mohammad Morsi in July 2013.
Over the past few weeks, the battle in Sinai has taken place on several fronts, including the demand by Islamic groups who insist that the Egyptian military not sell Egyptian gas to Israel. Another front is the deadly police crackdown on Morsi’s supporters that has left thousands in jail.
The Egyptian military also refuses to release Islamists who inspired the revolution which brought an end to 30 years of rule by Egypt’s longest-serving president, Hosni Mubarak. This decision could ultimately threaten the presence of Egypt’s current president, if Islamist groups are allowed to mobilise and get organised.
The military in Sinai has cracked down on demonstrations following Morsi's overthrow, passing a new law that banned all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.
40 year-old teacher, Dyaa Mohammed Ismail said that as much as he feels pain for the loss of Egyptian troops, he still finds it difficult that the Egyptian population must pay the price.
“Such cowardly attacks happened in al-Arish, but why does retaliation take place in Rafah which is about 40 km away?” he asked.
Egyptian analyst, Abdel-Fatah Fayed criticised all Egyptian media attempts to accuse the population of Sinai and Hamas in Gaza for carrying out attacks against the Egyptian army.
“There is a state of general mobilisation against the people of Sinai by making accusations before even conducting investigations,” Fayed told al-Jazeera’s evening news show.
Everyone is staying close to their homes in northern Sinai, where people fear that going outside could cause them trouble with the military. “The emergency declaration means that arrests could take place targeting anyone deemed to be suspicious and without giving justification,” Ismail told MEE.
Egyptian President, Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi addressed the Egyptian public in a televised speech on Saturday after two deadly attacks on Friday that resulted in the deaths of 31 Egyptian soldiers, the worst anti-state violence in years. He vowed to take revenge on “outsider forces.”
Al-Sisi plans to expand the jurisdiction of military courts in the area, so they can try civilians accused of damaging roadblocks and other public property.
The Egyptian media has long suspected that Hamas has aided military groups in Sinai, although Hamas’ senior official of external affairs, Osama Hamdan denounced the attack and said Hamas has nothing to do with them.
Hamdan says that his movement has been informed that Egypt has called off a meeting that was due to be held this week, in which Cairo was to broker indirect negotiations between Palestinian factions and Israel following a deadly attack in the Sinai Peninsula.
Last March, al-Jazeera television revealed a leaked document from an Egyptian security official to his leadership, stating that neither the Muslim brotherhood nor Hamas had anything to do with terrorist attacks on Egyptian military or gas pipelines.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri was quoted by the state MENA news agency as saying he would reach out to foreign diplomats in Cairo to appeal for more support politically and economically.
In a press statement, the foreign ministry called for support from the international community for "firm, decisive action by the government" to confront militants. It remains unclear as to where Egypt’s foreign minister would seek support in a two-day tour.
The European Union, The United States and British governments condemned the attacks on Friday and pledged their support.
As the days pass, the public is becoming more aware that this emergency declaration will only bring more poverty and lack of security, amid objections by Bedouin groups to leave their homes.
Abu Taleb says his land and water well is all he has in life and he has nowhere else to go. He fears that he is losing this season’s crops, but he never thought he would leave his land.
This all comes amidst leaked talks between the head of Bedouin tribes and government officials who offered land in exchange for family homes that will be confiscated as part of the buffer zone.
“Our land is our only resource. My family and I know nothing, but farming for our living.”