30 September 2012


Current tensions in and around the Sinai peninsula are raising the prospect of a major upsurge in violence within and across Sinai’s borders. Enhanced political and security coordination between Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip is urgently needed to regain control over this vital and volatile corner of the Middle East.

With intermittent border clashes spiking in recent months, a new paper, Sinai: The Buffer Erodes, analyses the causes of Sinai's instability and the potential for future unrest.

The paper’s author, Nicolas Pelham, argues that decades of Bedouin discrimination and discontent, jihadi revivalism and the lucrative informal tunnel economy to Gaza all contribute to the increasing instability and violence, as militant groups take hold. The recent attack in August, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, and penetrated Israel's border defences, highlights the dangers inherent in the prevailing vacuum.

The paper argues that if Egypt is to regain control in Sinai, all parties – Egypt, Israel, Gaza, and Sinai – should strive to formalise their economic relations, and end the policies of exclusion which drive the informal economies that bolster non-state actors. Security for all, Israel included, can better be achieved by monitored formal access and movement of people and goods across Gaza’s border with Egypt above ground, rather than hidden below it.

Nicolas Pelham says: 'Large areas of the Sinai have seen rapid population growth, for which state provision and integration lag far behind. Egypt should now consider negotiating a new social contract with its Bedouin population, with a view to the integration of the Bedouin into the formal structures of Egyptian rule in Sinai, particularly the security forces.'

The current regional security relations have failed to keep pace with the changing times and are ill-suited to an era with a new quasi-state actor - the Hamas government of Gaza - on Sinai’s borders, and when Islamist movements and Bedouin clans are challenging state authorities in and around Sinai.

Notes to Editors

Read Sinai: The Buffer Erodes by Nicolas Pelham.

Sinai: the Collapse of a Regional Buffer
Tuesday 2 October, 13:30 - 15:00
Nicolas Pelham, Jerusalem Correspondent, The Economist