A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sinai Kidnapping of US Tourists May Draw More Attention to Growing Anarchy

The kidnapping of two US tourists from near Dahab on the "Sinai riviera" is only the most recent in a long string of tourist kidnappings in Sinai, mostly aimed at forcing the Egyptian government to release prisoners or to concede other demands. Though CNN has confirmed through an interview with one of them that the two tourists were still in custody despite Egyptian claims they had been released, they probably will be released safely, as was the case with two other Americans in February. But the US media has paid little attention to the continuing wave of abductions of tourists, most of them not from the US.

Since the withdrawal of police during the Egyptian revolution, Sinai has increasingly become a Wild West no-man's-land where increasingly radical Islamist and jihadi groups are operating freely in some cases operating from a core of former prisoners who escaped during the revolution and have been operating in Sinai, drawing recruits from long-disgruntled local Bedouin tribes who have long felt neglected by Cairo. Not all these incidents, however, involve radical groups; some are simply tribal vendettas, and the current case is reportedly aimed at freeing a tribesman arrested for drug offenses.

The fact that Sinai is the crucial buffer between Egypt and Israel and that incidents along the border, including rocket attacks inside Israel, have occurred has raised the danger of a major confrontation with Israel. Under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Egypt is limited in how many military troops it can deploy, but there has been cooperation in the past on security in Sinai, though Israel has also warned that it will protect its border security unilaterally if necessary.

The security of Sinai is, along with the economic crisis, sure to be high on the agenda of Egypt's incoming President.

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