Sheikh Bab El Ehr is a fictional character from The Adventures of Tintin series of classic comic books drawn and written by Hergé. He is an Arab insurgent who fights the power governing his country, though overall he comes across as a villain rather than a noble fighter.
"Bab El Ehr" is a pun on the Brussels dialect term "babbeleir (babbler) which stands for someone who talks excessively.
Some have assumed that he is the Sheikh who is a Tintin fan in Cigars of the Pharaoh, as there is a visual resemblance between the two, but that Sheikh is called Patrash Pasha. Pasha does not appear in any other adventure though he is mentioned as supporting Emir Ben Kalish Ezab against Bab El Ehr in The Red Sea Sharks.
Bab El Ehr's first appearance was in Le Petit Vingtième when Land of Black Gold was published in 1939-40. The action was set in the British Mandate of Palestine. Bab El Ehr was a fanatic who fought the British and the Jews. Knowing that a Zionist called Finkelstein had arrived to help the Irgun militant group fight the Arabs, he ordered that Tintin be seized from the militants who had just sprung him from the British.
Tintin was then taken to Bab El Ehr who realised that he was not Finkelstein and was furious with his men for their mistake. At that moment a British plane flew over his camp, dropping leaflets. Probably worried that they were propaganda pamphlets he gave orders to shoot any of his men who read them; at that moment he was hit by a pile of leaflets tied together which knocked him to the ground.
Bab El Ehr ordered the camp to be lifted and to make for the mountains. Tied up with rope, Tintin was forced to walk alongside a guard on horseback. By the next day they had reached a source of water only to find that it had dried up. Tintin, parched and exhausted, collapsed and Bab El Ehr callously abandoned him to the desert.
(Shortly after the invasion of Belgium by Germany during World War Two, the publication of Land of Black Gold was cancelled and Hergé instead published stories that avoided political issues. Land of Black Gold was later redrawn and completed in Tintin Magazine.)
Tintin later met Emir Ben Kalish Ezab who tolerated the British presence in the area. When his young son Abdullah was kidnapped, a note arrived in which Bab El Ehr claimed responsibility and demanded that the British be driven out of the area before Abdullah be returned. Although the Sheikh was an enemy of the Emir, Tintin suspected that the real kidnapper was his old enemy Dr. J.W. Müller. He had, after all, seen Müller blow up an oil pipeline, an act also blamed on Bab El Ehr. He turned out to be right and rescued Abdullah from Müller.
Land of Black Gold was later partly redone in 1972 at the request of Tintin's English publishers Methuen, who felt that the scenes in the British Mandate of Palestine made it dated.
In this version, the action takes place in the kingdom of Khemed, with no mention of the British and the Jews. Bab El Ehr is portrayed as being in a straightforward battle for control of Khemed with Emir Ben Kalish Ezab. When Tintin arrived in Khemed some documents were found in a secret compartment of his cabin, of which he knew nothing about, suggesting that he was there to arrange the smuggling of weapons to rebel leader Bab El Ehr (in the original version the nature of the documents was not revealed).
Bab El Ehr was told about this and ordered Tintin to be sprung from custody (in the same way as the Irgun had done in the previous version; but this time neither the Jews nor Tintin's double appeared). Tintin was taken to Bab El Ehr but denied knowing anything about the weapons. The Sheikh, paranoid and bad-tempered, took it out on his informant whom he accused of lying to him when he had simply reported what he had been told by a spy in the Emir's police. He then accused Tintin of attempting to infiltrate his rebels and betray them.
A plane of the Khemed Air Force flew over dropping leaflets, but Bab El Ehr laughed them away claiming that none of his men could read.
From then on the story followed the earlier one, with Bab El Ehr abandoning Tintin in the desert and being accused of the sabotage of the oil pipelines and Abdullah's abduction. The only real difference was that there was no mention of the British presence in the area and that Bab El Ehr had the support of the Skoil Petroleum company while the Emir stuck to his deal with their rivals Arabex (see Ideology of Tintin: Big Business).
Another difference was that the Emir was more hostile towards Bab El Ehr: in the original version he stated that the Sheik was only suspected of being behind the oil pipe bombings, but in the latter version he accuses him outright of being responsible.
In The Red Sea Sharks (published in 1956) Emir Ben Kalish Ezab was overthrown by Bab El Ehr who seized power with the assistance of a number of Tintin's other enemies such as Dawson of The Blue Lotus, Müller and Rastapopoulos.
He was prepared to turn a blind eye to their slave trading, compared to the Emir who was about to expose it when Arabair, one of Rastapopulos' companies, refused to grant the shockingly spoilt Abdullah's demand that their planes looped-the-loop before landing in Wadesdah.
The coup had been engineered by building up trouble in the area and supplying the Sheikh's forces with de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers. It is implied that Bab El Ehr was just a puppet of outsiders since he never actually appears in the story, while Müller, as Mull Pasha, assumes an important role in the regime.
By the end of the adventure Emir Ben Kalish Ezab was back in power, as is shown by a newspaper clipping, but Bab El Ehr's fate is not mentioned.