Egypt has been experiencing a state of complete shock since the attack on its border crossing in northern Sinai during which 16 Egyptian officers and soldiers were killed and many others injured, whilst breaking their Ramadan fast. This treacherous operation, not to mention the fact that it occurred whilst the Egyptian soldiers were breaking their fast, has inflicted a deep wound on all of Egypt, which further intensified the sense that Egypt is now completely exposed, whether to armed militias moving freely across the Sinai Peninsula or external forces seeking to carry out their own plots. This is all happening at a time when Egypt’s political elite are preoccupied with the manoeuvring that has dominated the scene since the eruption of the revolution, the success and joy of which has turned into frustration as a result of the deteriorating living conditions and services in the country. This is not to mention the continuous accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to dominate the political scene and implement a secret agenda.
Amidst comprehensive condemnation of the operation, the question that is being asked across the country is: who is trying to set Egypt ablaze?
The analyses and statements are being issued in different directions; from focusing accusations against extremist jihadist groups in Sinai that are overtly calling for the establishment of an Islamic emirate there to accusing armed Palestinian groups in Gaza of taking action to establish jihadist organizations in Sinai with the aim of turning the region into a scene of confrontation with Israel, with the objective of pulling Egypt into the battle. In addition to this, we have heard accusations that Hamas was involved in the operation, providing facilities and assistance to the attackers, or at least turning a blind eye to their movements. We have even heard accusations that Israel infiltrated jihadist groups and prompted them to carry out this attack to provoke riots and instability in Egypt. Israel, of course, rushed to announce that Iran and Hezbollah cannot be ruled out, for they could be seeking to open a new front to reduce the pressure on the ailing al-Assad regime, which is beginning to disintegrate in the face of the rebels’ operations. In this regard, it was striking that Sheikh Nabil Naeem, a leading figure in Egypt’s Islamic Jihad organization, told Asharq Al-Awsat that a number of regional states, including Iran, are benefiting from this operation that is certainly drawing attention away from what is happening in Syria. However he played down Tehran having any direct influence on extremist Jihadist operations in Sinai. However there are others who have adopted a different view and who are seriously considering the recent Iranian warnings that the fire blazing in Syria will also burn Israel. They are viewing this statement as evidence that Iran is seeking to move the battle to Israel, particularly as Iran is convinced that what is happening in Syria is also targeting it as well.
This broadening and escalation in the accusations regarding who is responsible for this attack means that numerous parties are benefitting from the combustible situation in Egypt. However this does not necessarily mean that any of these parties are directly responsible for carrying out this particular operation. This only adds to the complexity of the situation and makes the Egyptian security apparatus’s job even more difficult. The Egyptian people must focus their attention and realize they are facing a problem in two parts, namely a political problem and a security problem. Politically, Egypt seems to be in a state of disorder and instability, with all parties experiencing a tug-of-war over power, not to mention the general concerns regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and the unclear nature of the military’s role in the political sphere. Some people are championing the military as a balancing power that can frustrate the Brotherhood’s hegemony, whilst others are calling for its withdrawal from the political scene. Such political disorder reflects negatively on Egypt and demonstrates that the country is vulnerable to infiltration from all directions. This situation gives prominence to the security questions and draws attention to the problems in the Sinai Peninsula, in light of the escalating activities of the extremist jihadist groups there and the danger they pose to the country as a whole. Sinai has been the home of a number of such operations, and these have only increased following the revolution and the rise of the Islamists to the point that the gas pipeline that runs to Israel and Jordan has been attacked 15 times since the 25 January Revolution. In addition to this, rockets have been launched from Sinai into Israel, whilst Egyptian soldiers have been targeted by extremist groups in this region, with two Egyptian soldiers were killed at the hands of such groups in the weeks leading up to Ramadan.
The people of Sinai previously complained about the lack of security in view of the presence of armed Jihadist groups who were moving freely into and out of Gaza via tunnels, in coordination with extremist Palestinian groups that also sought to extend their presence onto Sinai. Of course, this is given the fact that some of these groups have been overtly calling for overthrowing the regime and distributing leaflets calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Sinai, as well as calling for the evacuation of the police and army troops from there. Yet, the Egyptian authorities have been slow to confront such groups, which some people have attributed to the Egyptian authorities’ preoccupation with the political tug-of-war that is raging in Cairo. Others are of the view that it is the restrictions present in the Camp David Accords, regarding the presence of Egyptian troops, arms and ordinance in Sinai, which has led to the significant lack of security in the region. Thus, following the recent operation there, numerous loud voices have called for reconsidering and amending the articles of the peace accord in order to ensure that Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai is no longer incomplete, whilst also providing adequate security.
The Egyptian forces reaction to the killing of the soldiers, attacking the tunnels at the Egyptian-Palestinian border and closing the Rafah Border Crossing, reflects the country’s shock and anger. This also reflects the Egyptian people’s suspicions that Hamas provided the attackers with support; or at the very least turned a blind eye to them and allowed them freedom of movement. However the results and impact of this reaction will remain limited unless Egypt takes serious action to eradicate extremist armed groups that are being allowed to move freely across the Sinai Peninsula, and who are gradually transforming the region into a centre for struggle, outside the control of the central government. This is also conditional upon ending the internal political struggle that is making Egypt vulnerable to infiltration and unrest. Perhaps, the Muslim Brotherhood will also get the message that what Egypt requires today is consensus and stability, rather than attempts to gain political hegemony or talk about moving towards the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate!