The official Egyptian television, which has yet to provide uncensored coverage of the unrest roiling Egypt, brought the news from Sinai as it showed a line up of the arrested refugees. It also claimed that those it arrested were armed and showed pictures of pistols and light weapons that the police allegedly captured from those arrested.
The Sinai peninsula has long been a smuggling route through which Beduins take Eritreans refugees escaping the oppressive situation in their country to Israel. The Beduin smugglers are part of a network run by corrupt Eritrean officers and their Sudanese accomplices.
Once the refugees cross to Egypt, the Beduins hold them in Sinai until ransom is paid by their relatives who live and work in many parts of the world, especially in the West.
The timing is suspect: the refugees appear to have been caught in the middle of the Egyptian chaos and may be an attempt to distract the attention of Egyptians from the real problems that the rejected Hosni Mubarek regime is facing.
Concerned activists are afraid for the safety of the refugees. Egyptian border patrol and the Egyptian Beduin captors have mistreated, shot, killed, tortured and raped many such refugees in the past. The concern stems from the Egyptian authorities attempt to buttress the Hosni Mubarek regime’s credentials as a bulwark of stability, and images of menacing armed foreigners could be used as a propaganda tool.