Head of the coalition of Sinai tribes Naeem Gabr (Photo: Ayman Barayez)
Bedouin tribal leaders in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula say they are still "unaware of what happened" in the final hours before the release of seven Egyptian soldiers snatched by as-yet-unknown kidnappers in Sinai ten days ago and released last Wednesday following a military campaign.
"The tribes of Sinai cooperated with the ministries of defence and interior – and the intelligence apparatus – regarding the kidnapping, but we're still looking for concrete answers as to what really happened in the hours before the soldiers' release," Naeem Gabr, head of Egypt's Coalition of Sinai Tribes, told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website on Sunday.
"We asked the security forces if they knew the kidnappers' identities," Gabr added. "But they only told us that the perpetrators were Egyptian."
Gabr went on to assert that Egyptian authorities had kept tribal leaders in the dark regarding the precise timing of the operation aimed at freeing the kidnapped soldiers.
"If security authorities don't inform us of what happened, we will convene a meeting of all tribes to mull a joint response," Gabr said. "If the intelligence apparatus and military lose the tribes' trust, the consequences for Sinai – and Egypt's national security in general – will be dire."
The Bedouin leader also called on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to implement "serious" reforms in the border region.
"If President Morsi pursues real development in Sinai, he will be the right president to confront Israel," he said. Gabr went on to accuse Tel Aviv of "wanting to see Sinai remain undeveloped by promoting the spread of drug- and arms-smuggling in the area."
The seven Egyptian security personnel, who included one army conscript and six policemen, were taken hostage by unidentified kidnappers in North Sinai on 16 May. Six days later, under pressure from an impending military operation by the Egyptian military and security forces against them, the kidnappers released the seven men unharmed.
Sinai's Bedouin tribes have remained in a state of tension with Egyptian security forces since the peninsula's liberation from Israeli occupation in 1982. During the Mubarak era, former interior minister Habib El-Adly was frequently accused of employing heavy-handed security tactics in the peninsula and failing to respect human rights and tribal traditions.
In a speech following the soldiers' release on Sunday, President Morsi thanked the Sinai tribes for their help, adding that the recent crisis would represent a "starting point" for promoting development in the peninsula, addressing the region's longstanding grievances, and granting its people their legitimate rights.