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Saturday
Jan122013

Egypt Feature: An Alternative Justice System in the Sinai (Revkin)

Mara Revkin writes for Foreign Policy:

Justice comes slowly to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and sometimes not at all. In August 2012, local security officials announced that they were searching for 120 militants wanted on charges of attacking police stations and killing 16 Egyptian soldiers at a military post near the border with Israel. Six months later, they're still looking. Police are few and far between, and those who do patrol the streets are increasingly the victims of the same crimes they are trying to prevent. Police cars are hijacked in broad daylight while officers are gunned down by masked assailants in a climate of brazen banditry and lawlessness that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously described as "a kind of Wild West."

The 23,500 square mile Sinai desert has long been a sanctuary for militant Islamist groups and smugglers operating along Egypt's porous border with the embargoed Gaza Strip. But despite their strategic significance, the two governorates of North and South Sinai are among Egypt's poorest and most politically marginal, accorded a mere four seats each in the 508-member People's Assembly. Decades of neglect and economic discrimination by the central government have fueled resentment among the Bedouin tribes that account for around 70 percent of the Sinai's 500,000 residents. It is estimated that only 10 percent of the Bedouins are formally employed, and one out of every four does not possess a government ID card. Their many grievances -- including legal obstacles to land ownership, lack of basic public services, job discrimination, and systematic exclusion from military and police academies -- have reinforced a climate of mutual distrust between the central government and the Sinai....

Meanwhile, the predominately Bedouin residents of the Sinai have grown impatient with the government's inability to control violent crime and trafficking. Abandoned altogether by a state that had long treated them as second-class citizens, the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai have taken security matters into their own hands, administering justice through informal tribunals that rely increasingly on Islamic law. While ultraconservative Salafis complain that Egypt's new constitution ascribes too weak a role to Sharia, the battle over the religious character of the future legal framework has spilled over into the Sinai, where Islamists are taking advantage of the legal vacuum to organize informal tribunals that are implementing their own brand of Islamic justice. The emergence of a parallel Islamic justice system rivaling its government counterpart suggests that the Sinai is slowly taking on the dimensions of an Islamic sub-state. 

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