“If the state does not reverse al-Sissi’s mistake, there will be more for them to endure,” he said.
Morsi’s rule offered some respite from the repression — a new kind of freedom, some Bedouin leaders said. He didn’t deliver the roads, schools or hospitals that local leaders say would help break the territory’s cycle of violent resistance. But he left them alone.
“Nothing happened the year that Morsi was in power,” said one Bedouin smuggler who spent eight years in prison under Mubarak. “Morsi had no control here. But at least he didn’t insult or arrest anyone. When you would pass by the checkpoints, they would respect you. Now we’re back to the way it was before.”
Steadily increasing violence
The military says its crackdown is necessary to fight terror, but the Bedouin here say it only adds fuel to their rebellion, in a cycle that may soon spiral out of control.
Security officials say they have seized Syrian, Palestinian and even Russian fighters in the Sinai since Morsi’s ouster. They have accused the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Morsi, and the Islamist militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, of orchestrating the violence, and say that many of the Sinai’s fighters are well-trained jihadists.
Last week, the Interior Ministry said a “car accident” in the South Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh led to the arrest of a jihadist who had fought in Syria. On Sunday, a police official said security forces had killed 10 “jihadists” and arrested 20 others over the weekend.
The police also have blamed the Brotherhood for the deadly weekend clashes in the Egyptian capital, sparked by police attacks on demonstrators.
The Brotherhood says it does not condone violence. “We do not support, and we do not accept it, even if it seems like the violence is in support of us,” said Salem, the spokesman.
But the Sinai, he said, was beyond the group’s control. “We had tried to tell them that democracy would give them another chance to be good people and to be involved in society,” he said of the region’s smugglers and fugitives. “But this coup made them lose faith.”
And the violence is steadily increasing. Last week, a car exploded on a rural road through the sand dunes that armored vehicles regularly transit to carry supplies to troops stationed at a gas pipeline that had come under repeated attack in the year before Morsi’s presidency.
Local villagers speculated that the three men in the car — all killed in the blast — were in the process of laying a roadside bomb when it exploded prematurely. State media reported that the “terrorists” were driving a car containing a bomb that detonated near a police training camp.
“The military is afraid that what’s happening here will spread to the rest of the republic — from clashes to car bombs,” Abu Ashraf said. And if Morsi isn’t returned to power, Abu Ashraf and other tribal leaders said, car bombings probably will ensue.
Others said sectarian violence also would flare in the absence of a political solution. Militants fatally shot two Christians in North Sinai this month. Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said Sunday that a third had been kidnapped. “There is a sense here that the Christians played a big role in the coup,” said Mohamed, Abu Ashraf’s brother. “I expect there to be more Muslim-Christian violence in the future.”
At a police station that has come under attack almost every day in the center of el-Arish, plainclothes officers huddled in the main corridor on a recent day, fearful of the next attack. Their two armored vehicles sat abandoned outside.
“The biggest problem that we’re facing is that the people are not helping us,” a police commander said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Sometimes the attacks are directed from neighboring rooftops, he said.
At the door, an officer paced nervously with a Kalashnikov. The commander held up a twisted piece of metal that appeared to be the tail of an RPG — one of two missiles to strike the station the day before. In a separate attack the same day, an officer was fatally shot on the roof.
When a call came in that the station might soon come under attack, the officers quickly grabbed more Kalashnikovs and strapped on old flak vests. “You have to leave here now. There are armed men on the way,” the officer told a visiting reporter. Then they locked the gate.
Sharaf al-Hourani and Lara El Gibaly in Cairo contributed to this report.