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The attack on the faithful of a mosque in Egypt, this November 25, is the most brutal escalation of violence, to date. The history of barbarism is long and has a religious dimension, but also a social one.
More than 300 dead and 120 injured, visitors of a religious service. When the believers left the mosque, the terrorists detonated the bombs placed in front of the temple and then fired at the people who fled and those who ran to help them.
No one has yet claimed to be the perpetrator of the attack in Bir al-Abed, about 40 kilometers south of the regional capital Al-Arisch. However, the prosecutor responsible for the investigation said that the attackers carried a flag of the jihadist “Islamic State” (IS).
The Egyptian Air Force responded with air strikes and bombed suspected hideouts of the terrorists, destroying several vehicles, said the spokesman of the Egyptian armed forces, Tamer al-Refai, on Facebook.
Bedouins, “second class citizens”
Sinai has been the scene of jihadist attacks for several years. In 2014, 33 soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. “The main cause of the violence in the north of the Sinai is above all the economic and cultural situation of the Bedouins who live there,” says political scientist Asiem al-Difraoui. Its difficult situation prepared the ideological ground for the Islamic State.
“Bedouins have always been considered second-class citizens who live in precarious economic conditions and are insulted as criminals and smugglers,” Difraoui told DW. “Of the wealth in the Sinai, oil wells, on the one hand and tourism on the other, receive nothing.”
Memory of the Israeli occupation
The social geographer Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz, has researched the situation of the Bedouins since the 1970s. And the situation has worsened since the beginning of the Arab uprising in 2011.
But the problems come from much earlier. During the Israeli occupation, “the Bedouins benefited not only from Israeli tourists, but from improvements in infrastructure, especially medical care, as well as from the employment offered by the military administration,” Meyer adds. At the same time, they earned money with tolerated drug cultivation, which they later smuggled to the cities of Egypt.
Günter Meyer sees the cause of the already extensive Salafist radicalization above all in the failed attempts of the Bedouins to articulate their demands by political means, but in Cairo they have never been heard.
The roots of evil
In 2014, just one year after the dismissal of former President Mohammed Mursi, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and some Bedouin groups joined EI, from which they have received weapons from Libya. Since then, according to Meyer, the violence has intensified. “The Egyptian armed forces have also bombed settlements with warplanes and war tanks, destroying hundreds of houses to build a security zone along the border with the Gaza Strip.”
How could the terrorist violence in Sinai be counteracted? According to Asiem al-Difraoui, “a purely military response is counterproductive.” Egypt must recover the path of dialogue. “The Al-Sisi government needs to return to a more conciliatory course, going to the roots of the disease.”
The alliance that has sealed part of the Bedouin with the IS has meant more violence, not only against the Copts, the Egyptian Christians, but against the Sufis, considered apostates of the radical interpretation of Sunni Islam they defend. Likewise, non-Bedouins have been attacked. This would suggest that jihadism there is not just an ideological struggle but a social one.