EL-ARISH, Egypt, July 13 (Reuters) – Egyptian authorities released three Bedouins activists on Tuesday, the latest in a series of steps designed to reduce local tension in Egypt’s strategic Sinai Peninsula near its border with Israel and Gaza.
The release of the three was a main demand of Bedouin tribal leaders who met Interior Minister Habib el-Adly in Cairo last month to explore ways of bringing calm to the area.
Since that meeting, Egypt has released almost 70 detainees, though Adly promised that those with security records or facing some criminal charges remain in custody. Those charged with possessing firearms would be prosecuted, a security source said.
The three activists, Mosaad Abu Fajr, Ibrahim al-Arjani and Mohamed Isa al-Manai, were let go in the Sinai city of El-Arish, security sources said. They were prominent in organising protests among the 200,000 Bedouin living in northern Sinai.
Abu Fajr, a blogger arrested in 2007, was being held in Borg el-Arab prison in Alexandria for writing about human rights violations in the Sinai, according to newspaper reports and human rights organisations.
He was accused of possessing firearms without a licence, driving a car without a licence and provoking unrest. Several court rulings ordered him released, but the Ministry of Interior renewed his detention each time.
Police detained thousands of Bedouins, members of nomadic Arab tribes of Sinai, after a series of bombings at tourist resorts in south Sinai in 2004-2006. Relations have grown more strained, with sporadic clashes with security forces.
Bedouins complain of neglect by the government and say they do not see the benefits from booming tourism in Sinai. They say tough conditions have led some of their people to resort to smuggling and other activities the state considers criminal.
Among other demands of Bedouin elders is that the government investigate several policemen they say were involved in the killing of three tribesmen in 2007.
The Oil Ministry said on Tuesday it was urgently setting up an oil services company to develop the Sinai Peninsula, with half the staff to be hired locally.
On Monday, the minister of investment was quoted as telling a conference called to discuss investment in the cities along the canal and in the Sinai that Egypt planned to build a $1 billion tunnel under the Suez Canal at Port Said. (Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah; Writing by Patrick Werr; Editing by Jon Hemming)