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Will a new Hemedti surface in Egypt?

May 28, 2024 at 8:00 pm

The national flag of Egypt [Getty]

Influence of Egyptian businessman, Ibrahim Al-Argany, is vastly growing with the support of sovereign agencies. His operations are surrounded by ambiguity about his network of relationships, his sources of funding and the agenda he is implementing regarding sensitive issues related to Egyptian national security.

No one really knows the extent of influence granted to the head of the so-called Union of Arab Tribes in Sinai, who is said to be linked to the Egyptian army and its intelligence services. This raises concerns of replicating the Rapid Support Forces group in Sudan, and its leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.

A huge conference was held in early May, with the participation of 30 Sinai tribes, in the village of Al-Agra in the Egyptian city of Rafah. During the conference, the establishment of the Union was announced, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as honorary president, and Al-Argani as president, amid tumultuous controversy, worrying questions and growing fears. 

Al-Argani’s influence

Sinai sources say that the power of Al-Argani, who is 53 years old, stems from three determinants. The first is his close ties to the Egyptian President’s son, in a way that makes him the right arm of Mahmoud El-Sisi, who holds the position of Under-secretary of the General Intelligence Service and who has worked to remove all obstacles that hinder the expansion of Al-Argani’s business.

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Last November, El-Sisi appointed Al-Argani, by a presidential decree, as member of the Board of Directors of the National Authority for the Reconstruction of the Sinai Peninsula, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Defence.

The second determinant revolves around the man’s increased importance, given the number of companies he manages, which operate in various economic sectors and are said to be a front for the Egyptian army’s investments, which are not subject to any financial or parliamentary oversight.

The Sinai leader runs the Al-Argany Group, which includes the companies: Sons of Sinai for General Contracting, Sons of Sinai for Construction and Building, Egypt Sinai for Industrial Development and Investment, Sinai Foundation for Charity and Economic Development, Global Auto for cars, Hadayek for Parks and Recreational Facilities Management, NEOM Real Estate Development, AETOS Security Services and Hala Consulting and Tourism Services.

Hala controls the movement of individuals to and from Gaza through the Rafah border crossing in exchange for sums of money, while the Sons of Sinai Company controls the entry of aid and commercial goods into the Strip. Sovereign entities own shares in his companies, according to the Mada Masr website.

The third determinant behind the growing influence of Al-Argani, who is considered one of the sheikhs of the Tarabin tribe, one of the largest tribes in Sinai, is the military force that is under his command, which has massive armament and had a prominent role in eliminating the Sinai Province, the local branch of ISIS in the area.

No one really knows the exact size of the militia led by Al-Argani, its areas of deployment, the type of weapons it possesses and the nature of tasks assigned to it. However, previous reports indicated that these militias obtained 600 light weapons, 100 medium-range weapons, and 50 armoured jeeps from the Egyptian army, according to the American Associated Press. 

Suspicious targets

Given the statement issued by the Union’s media spokesman, parliamentarian and journalist, Mustafa Bakri, in which he explicitly announced on Sada El Balad satellite channel that the Union can be considered a faction affiliated with the Armed Forces and working for its interest, it is logical to have concerns about what the militia can do in the future, whether inside or outside of Sinai.

Al-Argani is assisted by two vice-presidents: Major General Ahmed Juhayna, who is a former officer in the State Security Service, currently National Security and former governor of Gharbia, and the other is Ahmed Raslan, who served as the former Chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament.

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An Egyptian political analyst, talking to us on the condition of anonymity, believes that Al-Argani is a tool in the hands of El-Sisi, who is using him to protect his ruling regime, in addition to the army and the police, along with internal militias under the command of the thug, Sabri Nakhnoukh, for deterrence inside the cities. This raises serious concerns about the possibility of Al-Argani’s transformation to become the new Hemedti.

The analyst continues speaking to Middle East Monitor saying that the Sinai leader, who was previously imprisoned on charges of kidnapping policemen (he was released in July 2010), has become a front for sovereign entities. A Qatari delegation met with him a few days ago, to discuss economic projects, as he is the one who holds the keys to Sinai and its projects with a green light from the authority. 

Serious violations

In a televised interview with journalist, Mustafa Bakri, in 2015, currently the Union’s media spokesman, Al-Argani pledged to eliminate the Takfiris, saying: “We can reach the Takfiris even in their sleep. We are part of the Armed Forces, and the Armed Forces are part of us. We fight side by side with the army men,” he said, describing his forces as the National Guard.

On the other hand, activists describe Al-Argani’s forces as Wagner of Sinai or Wagner of Egypt, in reference to replicating the group of Wagner mercenaries in Russia.

Under the headline: “Violations by ISIS members and army forces in Sinai for the period of July-September 2020”, the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, a non-governmental HR organisation, published a report in which it monitored what it called “violations by militias and irregular armed groups loyal to the Egyptian government”. In its report, it said that the government authorities informally sought help from irregular armed groups from the people of Sinai that were affiliated with the Sinai Tribes Union and granted them de facto powers to carry out security operations and campaigns of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearance.

The human rights report documented serious violations, where it said: “As a result of their lack of strict military training and the absence of discipline and accountability against them, these groups committed several serious violations, including extrajudicial killings” (link to the report:

The Director of the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, Ahmed Salem, revealed that he had received threats through intermediaries close to the authorities, stating that they would send him back to Cairo if he did not stop his work. One of these threats, which he received through a government-appointed leader of a local tribe in Sinai, warned Salem that revenge can reach him even if he’s abroad, according to a human rights statement signed by 18 civil society organisations, last February (link to the statement:

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Concerning scenarios

Al-Argani’s expansion of influence and the formal nature of his activities got him to the level of receiving a Qatari delegation a few days ago with the aim of signing a cooperation protocol between the companies of the tribal Union and the Jassim Group of Companies, which is a member of the ruling family in Qatar, amid media celebration from state-owned newspapers (image link It seems that things are heading towards darker scenarios.

Pessimistic estimates, made by an Egyptian expert requesting anonymity, suggest that El-Sisi is preparing for any possible events that would oppose his rule, by formulating new roles for the Union, thus giving himself a military backbone and a security alternative in case the army’s positions change against him or the security services abandon him or fail to suppress any protests against him after overthrowing his opponents and appointing his loyalists to high-ranking security, intelligence, and military positions, and that Al-Argani is nothing but a cover for carrying out dirty tasks, keeping responsibility away from the authority and its official tools.

Others downplay the bleakness of these scenarios, pointing out that the role of the tribal Union will not go beyond supporting state agencies, and being a political and economic partner in extending security and development in North Sinai and other border governorates. In these governorates, the regime faces the control of Arab tribes and, therefore, it needs a tribal reference to help it expropriate people’s lands to implement economic projects, either by force or negotiation, just like what happened in Ras Al-Hikma, without clashing with state agencies. Therefore, the Union may be a tool to protect sales plans in Matrouh, Sinai and other locations.

In this context, Al-Argani’s companies, staffed by former officers, will be a front for a large business sub-managed by generals, and they are likely to control a valuable share of the reconstruction of Gaza and Libya during the next stage.

Last January, Al-Argani signed major contracts in the field of construction and reconstruction with Libyan officials, most notably Belkacem Haftar, Khalifa Haftar’s son, whose forces control eastern Libya and who has strong relations with Cairo (photo link https://2u. pw/GFqGkPhT).

Some press reports said that sovereign bodies recommended freezing the Union temporarily, after strong criticisms warning of the possibility of the Union turning into an entity parallel to the State in Sinai. But, despite these reports, concerns remain high especially that the Union was announced in a suspicious ceremony, during which the Egyptian flag was raised after it was modified to include the tribes’ emblem, in addition to keeping the Union armed and supported by massive economic activities.

Concerns increase with the expansion of Al-Argani’s connections to the security and intelligence services, and the growing trust between him and El-Sisi personally, who had previously explicitly said last October that he can resort to a scenario of chaos. He said: “I spoke to the Supreme Judicial Council and told them I can destroy Egypt with two billion pounds. All I need to do is give a pack of drugs, 20 pounds and a strip of Tramadol to 100,000 people who live under difficult circumstances and send them off to the streets to create a state of unrest.” This gives the fears related to reproducing the Hemedti model a lot of logic and credibility.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.