CAIRO -- Improved co-operation between the Egyptian army and Sinai tribes has been a key factor in eliminating the remnants of extremist groups that have staged attacks on the Sinai peninsula, security analysts told Al-Mashareq.
For decades, they said, there had been a notable lack of communication between successive Egyptian governments and the inhabitants of the region.
But under President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt "has developed new plans related to internal and external public policies, foremost of which was the relationship with the people of Sinai", security expert Talaat Moussa said.
Sinai residents "were marginalised for decades under the previous regime", the retired Egyptian military officer said.
The region is a "strategic and essential area for Egyptian national security", however, "and keeping it outside the government's aegis had a significant negative impact, not the least of which was the spread of terrorist groups."
The new policy has ushered in a new era in the relationship between the government and the Sinai population, he said, with the introduction of development projects and initiatives to upgrade many areas.
This has created jobs and commercial and economic opportunities in the region, he said, noting that local participation in the political and security decision-making process via meetings and conferences has increased.
In turn, the nature of the relationship between the Egyptian army and the Sinai tribes has changed, he noted, especially with regard to the fight against terrorism, which the army and tribes consider a common danger that must be eliminated.
"Despite the historical divergences between the leaders of tribes and clans on the Sinai peninsula, they were united on the need to fight and eradicate terrorism from the region and ostracise all their sons who joined terrorist groups," he said.
Extremist groups operating in the region did not expect this, he said, as they "thought they could manipulate the region in any way they wanted because of its remoteness from the Egyptian government and Egyptian army".
Raids on extremist hideouts
North Sinai and its environs, where terrorist activity has been intense, are distinguished by difficult terrain, said Egyptian security analyst Abdel Karim Ahmed, a retired military officer.
"It is not possible to move around and conduct searches in it without the assistance of some residents of the region, who know every detail of the topography," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The operations carried out by the Egyptian army, in co-operation with Sinai residents and tribesmen, had a significant impact on the course of events in this region," he said.
The troops and civilians raided the rocky dens of extremist groups that had been carrying out attacks in the region, he said, surprising them in hideouts the extremists had considered to be safe havens.
Restored confidence between the army and the population of the region deprived groups such as "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) affiliate Wilayat Sinai of the logistical supply lines it had used for food, water and ammunition, he said.
Heightened awareness of the dangers posed by extremist groups means that residents of the region have refrained from co-operating with them, he added, even under the threat of arms and despite financial enticement.
Sinai youth guide army patrols
"The youth of the region are co-operating with Egyptian army patrols as guides to suspected hideouts," said Mahmoud Abu Saree, who completed his military service in the North Sinai city of Sheikh Zuweid two months ago.
They have helped "draw up maps of routes for military vehicles in safe areas away from roads or corridors that might be mined by terrorists", he said.
These youth also are spreading awareness about the need to support the army in its war against terrorism and to exhort the locals not to be weak in the face of threats by terrorists, he said.
They are urging fellow Sinai residents "to inform the military authorities of any threat and any suspicious activity by terrorists in the area", he added, including any attempts by extremists to secure food and water.
Abu Saree said the tribes possess weapons themselves, but under an agreement with the security and military authorities, they are intended solely for use for self-defence and in actions taken against terrorist groups.
"Through small groups of no more than five armed men", he said, extremists attempt "to terrorise civilians to force them to stop dealing with the army, including by beating, intimidating or kidnapping people".
In one such incident in 2015, he said, a woman from the village of Abu Tawila was kidnapped and then fatally shot, which infuriated all the tribes and has united them against the extremists.