Tal Aviv- Clashes renewed in Jaffa on Thursday between Palestinians and the Israeli police, after a protest against the violence of the police and the repetitive offenses on Arabs in addition to arrests – the police detained a number of citizens including brother of Mahdi al-Saadi who was shot dead last week.
His father narrated that his son was arrested by the police and got beaten for wearing a shirt that has on it a picture of his killed brother.
“They hit him hard, humiliated his wife and daughter before arresting him,” he stated, causing the people to protest but they were faced by suppression.
Since last Saturday, there has been a wave of rage and tension prevailing after the killing of Saadi under the pretext that he shot fire on a butcher’s shop in the town.
Security sources in Tal aviv revealed a new Israeli plan to construct a steel insulating wall on the northern-southern border with Sinai Peninsula.
“This plan falls within preliminary procedures to distant the threat of ISIS that is planning to infringe through tunnels in Sinai desert,” said the sources.
Israeli media received this announcement with bewilderment since ISIS has never conducted attacks against Israeli targets, not in Israel nor outside it.
According to the plan, the wall will be built with a length of one kilometer in the beginning then two kilometers after that – it is expected to be completed during one year and a half with a USD980 million cost.
The new wall will be similar to the wall that the Israeli authorities commenced establishing last year on the border with Gaza Strip – it is 8 meters deep and will be equipped with electronic sensors.
Air strikes have killed 19 members, including several leaders, of Egypt’s ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula where the extremists are waging an insurgency, the Egyptian military said on Thursday.
In a statement on its official Facebook page, the military said the air strikes were directed at militants in Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014 and adopted the name Sinai Province.
The military did not name the leaders it had killed in the strikes, but described one as among the group’s most prominent members, and another as the head of its religious affairs committee. The third was an official in charge of interrogations.
The announcement came after the jihadists claimed a series of attacks, including a shooting near St. Catherine’s monastery in south Sinai this week and twin church bombings on April 9 that killed dozens.
On Wednesday, the interior ministry said security forces killed a gunman suspected of killing a policeman and wounding three others near the monastery the day before.
The jihadists have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since 2013.
The military has killed several of their top leaders, but the extremists have increasingly expanded their attacks from the Sinai to other parts of Egypt, especially against Christians.
Egypt is tightening security ahead of a visit by Pope Francis next week.
Tripoli- Scores of leaders and recruits of extremist militias, belonging to Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, have fled the Sinai Peninsula – located east of Egypt- crossing the border and entering Libya. Over the last three months, terrorists had looked for sanctuary from the Egyptian army stranglehold.
Extremists stealthily crossed over the Egyptian-Libyan border, past barren deserts and bumpy roads. Boarding trafficking vessels, Libyan security sources revealed that some of the terrorists had entered the country by sea.
However, after entering Libya, extremist groups had become notorious for incursions and internal strife, disputes turned into bloodshed in Tripoli. Only two weeks ago, among others reported dead, had a prominent Egyptian terrorist figurehead called Sheikh Marwan been killed.
The Egyptian organization soon fell apart, crumbling into smaller brawling groups which, at a constant, are unsettled on whether to pledge allegiance to ISIS, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood.
Amongst the three embattled groups are “al-A’sali group”, “al-Bassal” and “Abu al-Mohajer.”
Al-A’sali group was founded by an Egyptian citizen originating from Port Said, a city that lies in northeast Egypt. The group has taken roots in Libya two months ago, spreading in each of Tripoli and Khoms. This group is affiliated with al-Qaeda Libyan offshoots.
As for al-Bassal, originally sprouting from the Sinai Peninsula, the group has only arrived to Libya a month ago. Most terrorists belonging to this faction are active in Misurata, which is a city in the Misurata District in northwestern Libya. On multiple occasions, they have also proved loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last but not least, Abu al-Mohajer, one of the most highlighted groups of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, has recently fled to Libya, and it is believed that the faction is led by a barred Egyptian officer. The group has taken headquarters in Sirte, which is a city located halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi, and has raised the ISIS flag.
Former theorist of the “Gamaat Islamiya,” otherwise known as Egyptian the Islamic Group, Sheikh Najeh Ibrahim said that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis have – over the last 12 years- committed heinous violations. The group had split into two groups a year ago, one of which now belongs to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the other abides by ISIS law dictated by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Sheikh Ibrahim said.
Sheikh Ibrahim also told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that members of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, had never displayed ardent belief to their adopted ideology. Some of which later trailed behind al-Qaeda, others behind ISIS and others simply claimed the whole group, he said.
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis had adopted attacks which targeted the Egyptian army and slaughtered civilians. Over 12 tribal leaders were killed in the Sinai Peninsula, Sheikh Ibrahim added.
Paris, Reuters—France has agreed to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Egypt for 950 million euros ($1.06 billion) after their sale to Russia was canceled in August, French officials said on Wednesday.
Cairo has sought to boost its military power in the face of a two-year insurgency based across the Suez Canal in the Sinai Peninsula and fears the conflict in neighboring Libya could spill over. Egypt’s allies are also keen to burnish its image in a region beset by turmoil.
“We unwound the contract we had with Russia, on good terms, respectful of Russia and not suffering any penalty for France,” Hollande told reporters on his arrival at an EU summit in Brussels.
“Yesterday, I agreed the price and conditions of this sale with (Egyptian) President (Abdel Fattah El-) Sisi and so France will ensure the delivery of these ships without losing anything, while helping protect Egypt.”
A French defense ministry source said the contract was worth about 950 million euros, but unlike the deal with Moscow would not include any technology transfer.
As of yet there had been no talks on the potential armament for the carrier, which can hold up to 16 helicopters and 1,000 troops.
“The ships should be handed over in early March after the training of about 400 Egyptians and some final tests,” the source said.
A diplomatic source said Cairo wanted to base one ship in the Mediterranean and another in the Red Sea, making it available for future operations in Yemen, where Egypt is part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels.
The French government agreed to reimburse 950 million euros to Moscow last month after the Mistral sale to Russia was canceled as a result of the Ukraine crisis.
France has also benefited from what some Gulf countries perceive as disengagement from a traditional ally, the United States.
The Mistral is known as the “Swiss army knife” of the French navy for its versatility. The sale will take the number of French naval vessels sold to Egypt to seven in just two years.
Egypt last year bought four small Gowind warships, built by Mistral manufacturer DCNS, which is 64 percent owned by the French state and 35 percent by defense group Thales.
It also acquired a French frigate as part of a 5.2 billion euro contract for 24 Rafale warplanes earlier this year, France’s first overseas export of the fighter jet. ($1 = 0.8953 euros)
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Saturday declared a state of emergency in North Sinai for a period of three months, beginning on Sunday, following a recent spate of attacks targeting security and army personnel in the province.
A state of emergency has been enforced in parts of the region since last October, but a statement issued by the Egyptian president said the current decision did not represent an extension of this, but rather a new decision that encompassed different areas in the restive province.
The Egyptian constitution stipulates a state of emergency can only be enforced for a period of three months and then renewed again, only once, for another three months.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, Egyptian officials maintained the new decision was entirely constitutional since it was declaring a new state of emergency in different areas from the preexisting ones encompassed in the October 2014 decision.
While the new areas were not mentioned in the statement released by the Presidency announcing the decision, the officials, who requested anonymity, said they included “El-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid,” all of which have recently seen attacks claimed by extremist groups.
The deadliest of these came in October of 2014 when a suicide bomber killed 30 soldiers near El-Arish, the province’s capital, and which was claimed by the Sinai Province extremist group.
The group initially called itself Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, but changed its name late last year after declaring its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Sinai Province and other extremist groups in the restive region have killed hundreds of policemen and army personnel since July 2013, after the army, then led by Sisi, overthrew Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi following mass protests against his one-year rule.
The new state of emergency will, as the previous one did, enforce a night curfew on all the areas it encompasses.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, residents of the province expressed their dismay at the “extension” of the curfew.
“We were shocked when the governor of North Sinai, Maj. Gen. [Abdel-Fattah] Harhour informed us the curfew would be extended, despite all the [previous] talk about reducing the number of hours,” Amr Selim, the head of the Engineers’ Union in the province, said.
“Throughout the previous six months it was enforced the curfew did not succeed in protecting our armed forces, and most of the [terrorist] operations in the province occurred during that period,” he continued.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Harhour however said that “the benefits of the curfew exceed the costs.”
Despite his concern over the legality of the decision, Hafez Abu Saada, the head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, also concurred with Harhour’s assessment.
“This is a very difficult situation,” he said. “We have to give an excuse to the government [for taking the decision to enforce the curfew] because there are currently clashes on the ground, and if the curfew was removed it would put our armed forces at risk.”
However, he also said that “any extension of the curfew or the state of emergency represents an infringement of Egypt’s constitution.”
The decision coincides with Sinai Independence Day in Egypt, on Saturday, which marks the withdrawal of the last group of Israeli soldiers from the area in accordance with the Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979, following the Yom Kippur (October) War in 1973.
Harhour said celebrations of the national holiday were canceled in North Sinai this year out of respect for members of the armed forces killed in last October’s suicide bomb attack. He insisted the security situation in the province had improved since then following the declaration of the state of emergency and the curfew.
Doha, Asharq Al-Awsat—Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states will discuss adopting a unified position in support of Egypt’s counter terrorism efforts in the Sinai Peninsula at this week’s annual meeting, a GCC source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The two-day summit in Doha, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, will consider “adopting a collective position in support of stability in Egypt and its efforts to eradicate terror in the Sinai Peninsula,” a senior Gulf source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Egypt has been a major bone of contention for the GCC, which only recently recovered from one of the worst diplomatic crises in its 30-year history. While Qatar was accused of supporting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, others, including Saudi Arabia, see in the now-banned Islamist group a threat to Egypt and the entire region. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been mobilizing support for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who removed the group from power following nationwide public protests.
Developments in Egypt roiled the GCC, and saw Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama recall their ambassadors from Doha for eight months.
Leaders of the GCC member states will also discuss the outcomes of the recent Riyadh agreement, which led to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain return their ambassadors to Qatar, the source maintained.
“The Doha Summit will be held at a very important time and in extremely critical circumstances, which undoubtedly requires more solidarity among the GCC countries,” the GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani told Qatar News Agency (QNA) on Sunday.
The summit is also expected to tackle the issue of coordinating security and political efforts among its six member-states to address regional instability, authorize the establishment of a new Joint Military Command, and assess efforts to combat terrorism and radical groups.
The organization has been seeking to strengthen defense cooperation among its oil-rich members, with several reports circulating of plans to form a Joint Military Command to coordinate efforts against terrorist groups. The GCC already possesses a joint military formation known as the Peninsula Shield Force, which was established in 1982 and headquartered since in Saudi Arabia, though this was created with conventional military threats in mind.
Also on the agenda will be issues of tumbling world oil prices and ties with neighboring Iran, particularly fears that it is seeking to expand its regional influence, and fears among the Gulf states as to Tehran’s intentions regarding its nuclear program, currently the subject of negotiations between Iran and a number of world powers, including the US.
Zayani added that the GCC’s leaders had a full agenda to deal with at the annual summit, including “the critical situation and developments in the Arab region which have deep impact on GCC security and stability and on regional and international peace and security, especially in light of the increasing threat of extremist and terrorist organizations, the lack of a unified Arab stance, the unstable condition in some regional countries, the worsening humanitarian suffering of refugees and displaced persons in a number of Arab states, and the growing regional interventions in Arab affairs.”
According to the official, GCC is concentrating its efforts on combating terrorism on the basis that “terrorism has no religion or country, and it is alien to Islamic principles and Gulf soil.”
Fahad Al-Zayabi contributed reporting from Riyadh.
Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri has placed the responsibility for reconciliation between Doha and Cairo squarely on Qatar’s shoulders—saying “the ball is not in Egypt’s court.” His comments come soon after the signing of an agreement in Riyadh that restored diplomatic relations between Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud subsequently calling on Egypt to mend its own relations with Qatar.
Shokri spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat during a visit to Paris where he met with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius and French President Francios Hollande. In a broad-ranging interview, Shokri discussed Egyptian foreign policy toward Qatar, Libya, France and the US, as well as the ongoing war on terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Saudi Arabia has called on Egypt to sign the Riyadh Agreement and reconcile with Qatar. What are the chances of Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement?
Sameh Shokri: Egypt was quick to express its appreciation for Saudi King Abdullah’s call, but let me confirm that Egypt is not the side that initiated an unfriendly position. We are working for the sake of Arab solidarity and seeking to ensure that our relations with brotherly Arab states are close and cooperative. As President Sisi said in his press conference in Italy, the ball is not in our court, and we hope that the other side [Qatar] takes a position that demonstrates its acceptance of what was agreed in Riyadh and follows policies that prove that it is following a different path so that relations are brotherly and based on mutual respect and joint interests. We hope that all Arab states are committed to supporting Egypt’s interests and national security. Egypt, for its part, is committed to being an effective part of defending national and Arab interests and working to consolidate this.
Q: What precisely are you calling for Qatar to do on the ground?
What is required is for Qatar’s policies to be supportive of Egypt and its national security during this stage, and to avoid anything that leads to destabilizing Egypt.
Q: Egypt’s dispute with Qatar is over Doha’s alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as issues pertaining to Al-Jazeera. Would you agree with this characterization or does Cairo have other grievances with Qatar?
I leave the judgment of this to the observers of these issues, and it is up to them to reach conclusions regarding the answers to these important questions by monitoring and reading up on the situation . . . Every observer must read up on this as much as possible and evaluate these relationships and policies.
Q: Let us turn to the situation in neighboring Libya which is continuing to slide towards the abyss. It does not seem that international mediation, including by the UN, will be able to resolve the deteriorating situation there. What is the solution to the situation in Libya?
The situation in Libya is dangerous. There is an initiative that has been put forward by neighboring states . . . and it could lead to a foundation for a political solution and national dialogue. This is something that we discussed at the ministerial conference that was hosted by Cairo in August. The initiative encourages national dialogue between all parties that reject violence and are keen on securing Libya’s safety and territorial integrity. Of course, there is a legitimate authority [in Libya] as represented by the parliament [in Tobruk] which reflects the will of the Libyan people following free and democratic elections—therefore the government that emanates from this parliament is also legitimate and expresses the will of the Libyan people. All international parties must support this legitimate government. There is international recognition of this government that is headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani. On the other hand, there is one side that continues to resort to violence and the military solution and is trying to impose its will on the Libyan people and is trying to secure gains by military force. Of course, this is something that is completely unacceptable.
Q: However, Libya’s Supreme Court invalidated the elections and the “legitimate” and internationally-recognized parliament and government that emanated from this. Hasn’t this only served to increase confusion in the country?
There are many legal interpretations related to this decision, including those that say that this legal body does not have the authority to dissolve parliament. We must also not forget that this decision was issued at a time when the judiciary was subject to pressure and intimidation to the point that some judges took the decision to flee the capital, Tripoli. More than this, the international community has not responded to this decision, continuing its support of the legitimate parties in Libya as represented by the parliament and government.
Q: Do Paris and Egypt have the same position on the situation in Libya?
Yes, there is broad consensus between us on this issue.
Q: You say that Cairo supports the legitimate parliament and government in Libya, but these bodies have allied with illegitimate parties, including rebel General Khalifa Haftar. How can you reconcile this issue?
Libya’s parliament issued a decision officially reinstating Haftar into the ranks of the Libyan military and restoring his military rank. Today, he is an official and integral part of Libya’s legitimate military forces.
Q: However there is a prominent section of Libya that refuses to acknowledge these “legitimate” parties. Does this mean that the fighting will continue indefinitely?
No, we have the efforts of [UN Envoy] Bernardino Leon and we support his mediation efforts to reach a political solution and create a national dialogue in Libya. The will of the people must be the source of any authority, and the people expressed their will through the ballot box last summer and this is what must be accepted.
Q: Let us turn aside from the region now and look at Cairo’s relations with Washington. How would you characterize Egyptian-US relations today?
They are close; there is a lot of joint dialogue and many mutual interests and both sides are seeking convergence of views on issues where there is lack of agreement. At the same time, there are significant areas of agreement on many issues and as well as mutual interests between Egypt and the US. There is high-level coordination between myself and my American counterpart [US Secretary of State John Kerry]. The meeting in New York between presidents Sisi and Obama was an important point in the context of full US interaction with the Egyptian president and government following the conclusion of the second stage of Egypt’s [post-Mursi] road-map, namely the election of President Sisi. We are working together to ensure that our relations are positive and supportive for both parties.
Q: What about the reservations expressed by Washington following the ouster of former president Mursi in 2013? Can we say that Cairo-US relations have returned to their previous pre-revolution levels or does Washington continue to have some reservations over the Egyptian government?
I do not think that there are any reservations in this relationship today. Relations between the US and Egypt are normal and include complete recognition of all the achievements that Egypt has made with regards to the political roadmap. This now includes a desire for cooperation and achieving mutual interests. This relationship—politically, economically and militarily—is a close one and includes the arrival of numerous US delegations to Cairo and a desire to support the Egyptian economy . . . We are working to ensure that US-Egyptian relations are at their normal levels. Relations between two countries cannot always mean complete convergence of viewpoints and that there will be no disagreements on some regional and international issues, and how to deal with these.
Q: What can you tell us about your meetings in Paris, particularly French President Francois Hollande’s statement that Paris is seeking to help Egypt in Europe, although he tied this with a number of conditions?
What I learnt from the talks that I held with President Hollande is that France is ready to explain Egypt’s position to the rest of Europe. Of course, in any relations there are expectations from each side towards the other, although I would not describe these as conditions. This specifies the nature and scope of relations. Just as there are expectations from the European side regarding the future course of events in Egypt, we also have expectations towards Europe regarding how it deals with Egypt in terms of supporting the country and regional stability, as well as the issue of confronting terrorism. Relations must be reciprocal, not one-sided.
Q: Egypt continues to face security problems, particularly relating to terrorist groups. How long will it take the Egyptian authorities to clamp down on this dangerous phenomenon and restore security across the country?
Europe must support Egypt in the fight against terrorism. We are waiting for Europe to give us what we need—whether politically, materially or militarily—in the war against terrorism, particularly to help us to safeguard our soldiers and track down terrorist elements.
Egypt is carrying out a war against terrorists in Sinai and has borne many sacrifices in this regard, particularly given that there are many residential centers in Sinai where terrorist elements can hide while we are committed to ensuring that no innocent civilians are harmed. It would be easy to fight against terrorism with indiscriminate military operations that do not take civilian casualties into account. But they [the people in Sinai] are Egyptian and the state supports and protects them, and this is a policy that we are committed to.
We are making every effort to win the war on terrorism and hope to put an end to this phenomenon soon. We are in the process of taking new security measures [in Sinai] and I believe that this will have a strong impact in ensuring success in the war on terror.
Q: The world has been preoccupied with international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. In your opinion, will the failure of the talks lead Iran to harden its line towards the region?
The nuclear issue is an important one, both on the regional and international level. The major powers are working to find the equation that ensures the non-proliferation of nuclear arms in the Middle East, preventing a nuclear arms race that would have a severe impact on the region.
On the topic of Egypt’s ties with Iran, the situation has not changed much over the past 25 years. Ties are frozen and diplomatic relations severed. Attempts from both sides have failed to make progress. We are co-members of many regional and international organizations. But bilateral relations are not as they should be between two countries of similar magnitude. We hope the future will hold the opportunity to restore our ties with Tehran and that the Iranian side adopts policies that encourage common interaction.
Ismailia, Egypt, Reuters—Egypt has indefinitely shut schools in two border towns in northern Sinai as the army prepares to intensify a battle with Islamist militants that turned the daily trip to lessons into a “journey of death.”
Local people say children’s education has fallen victim while the military stages air strikes against jihadists, who are targeting soldiers and police, and have started beheading army informers.
“We are putting our lives at risk on a daily basis,” said Mohamed, a teacher who lives in the town of Sheikh Zuweid. “Sometimes there is fire between gunmen and the armed forces and sometimes stray bullets hit some of us.”
Militancy has surged in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal, since the army ousted former president Mohamed Mursi in July. At least 33 security personnel were killed last month and one Sinai-based group has pledged its loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Army checkpoints dot the main roads in northern Sinai which residents fear is turning into an all-out war zone. This made the daily school run arduous, and dangerous if militants targeted the troops manning them. “We’ve started calling the trip to and from school the journey of death,” said another teacher, declining to be named.
Since the militant attacks on October 24, Egypt has imposed emergency rule in parts of Sinai, evicted hundreds of families and demolished their homes to create a buffer zone along the Gaza border about 220 miles (350 km) northeast of Cairo.
The government hopes that by clearing the 1 mile-deep area of residents, buildings and trees, it can stem the flow of arms via tunnels from Gaza to the Sinai-based jihadists.
“The buffer zone is a principal part of the solution,” President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in an interview with France 24 television on Thursday. “This should have been done years ago . . . There was an understanding with the residents about the need for Egypt’s security.”
Not everyone agrees with him, and the heavy-handed approach is breeding resentment among local residents who have long complained of neglect by Cairo.
A night time curfew has brought life to a near standstill while extended Internet and phone disruptions aimed at breaking the militant’s communications also cause problems. Local people say they cannot even call an ambulance to pick up casualties or inform police if they spot militants nearby.
Ten civilians were killed in their home this week during clashes between the army and militants. Security sources said insurgent mortars hit the house but had earlier raised the possibility of an army air strike gone wrong.
Egyptian officials say extraordinary measures such as the school shutdown are necessary for both national security and residents’ safety.
Schools in Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, both on the border with Gaza, would remain closed while the army secured the surrounding areas, North Sinai governor, General Abdel Fattah Harhour, told state news agency MENA on Thursday.
An army spokesman declined to comment on the military’s plans or whether they were related to the school closures. However, security sources said the army was planning major operations in the coming days and did not want children caught in the crossfire.
With neighboring Libya in chaos and ISIS trying to establish a cross border “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, Egypt is determined to regain full control of the Sinai. But its battle is growing more complicated.
Last week, five navy seamen were wounded and eight declared missing after what the army called a “terrorist incident” at sea. This was about 30 miles (50 km) from Port Said, the Mediterranean entrance to the Suez Canal which is a major international shipping route and revenue earner for Egypt.
A bomb in a Cairo suburb wounded six people around a police checkpoint on Thursday, security sources said. This was the latest in a string of attacks in the capital whose targets included the supreme court, foreign ministry and Cairo University.
Militants from Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, Egypt’s most active jihadist group, have claimed responsibility for beheading a number of Egyptians in recent months they accused of being informants for Israeli intelligence. The group now may be able to boost its funding, recruiting and fighting abilities by vowing loyalty to ISIS.
Ansar released a slickly-produced video resembling those of ISIS, appearing to claim responsibility for the October 24 suicide attacks that provoked the Sinai crackdown. This has left rubble where some homes in Rafah once stood.
“Rafah has become a ghost town by night and military garrison by day,” said Salem Al-Araishi, a resident. “All our memories are gone with our houses.”
Egypt is facing a fierce attack that aims to drag the country into a quagmire of chaos and instability that a number of other regional states have already fallen into. The terrorist attacks, which have escalated in recently, aim to weaken and destabilize Egypt, drowning it in a spiral of domestic crises that prevent any form of recovery. While Egypt’s armed forces are now especially being targeted as they are the sole guarantor of Egyptian security.
Over the past few decades we have witnessed the systematic destruction of the region and its states—by terrorism, conflict or civil wars—to the point that many people in the region have completely forgotten the very taste of stability and security. Iraq was destroyed and is now facing the likelihood of partition and division. Syria today more closely resembles Berlin after the Second World War in terms of the extent of the destruction and displacement that has been visited on its population. Libya is drowning in destructive wars following the proliferation of arms and militias on the ground. Yemen is reeling from the advance of the Houthis and their control of key state institutes. Lebanon has suffered one setback after another and is beset by fears of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advancement. The list goes on.
Therefore nobody in the region today feels safe or reassured in the face of what is happening and the long chain of unending wars and terrorist attacks that we are witnessing. Even when one fire is put out, another is quickly ignited in another part of the Middle East and quickly spreads from state to state.
There are major concerns over the fate of Egypt. The fear is that Egypt is the next target in this unending chain of regional crises which aim to weaken states. When a terrorist attack takes place, the main aim is to weaken the state, if not to completely topple it. This is because these terrorist attacks target a state’s stability, weakening its economy and security and shaking public confidence in its institutions. Egypt may have successfully dealt with terrorist threats before, but this new wave of terrorism is coming at a time when the domestic situation in Egypt is completely different, not to mention the situation in the region.
The large number of soldiers who have been killed, and the nature of the battlefield in the Sinai Peninsula, confirms that Egypt’s war against terrorism will be a long, arduous and hard-fought campaign. These terrorists hope to repeat the ISIS scenario in Egypt and establish an Islamic “emirate” in the Sinai Peninsula where they can attract support and fighters from all corners of the world. This is precisely what ISIS has been able to do in Iraq and Syria, or what the Taliban and Al-Qaeda managed to do, for a time, in Afghanistan. The Egyptian state is well aware of this threat, as can be seen in the defiant statement issued by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to the Egyptian people following the terrorist operation that cost the lives of 31 Egyptian soldiers. Sisi explicitly stated to the Egyptian public that this is a “huge” war and an existential battle.
Such long wars, of course, require patience and for the state to take action that not only directly affects the security side of things, but also other aspects such as pushing for domestic cohesion and uniting society behind the objective of throttling terrorism, targeting its financial resources and addressing its causes. We can read Sisi’s latest statements—in which he said that the war on terror must be a “comprehensive” effort that goes beyond the military aspect—as part of this objective. The Egyptian president said that this war on terrorism must be based on a holistic approach that also includes social and economic dimensions, particularly as there are well-known social and economic issues in the Sinai Peninsula that have accumulated after many years of neglect and this is also something that the people of Sinai have long complained of.
The Egyptian state is well aware of all this. Part of its strategy in this war on terror in the Sinai may well be to work to address the dissatisfaction felt by the people there and deal with the problems that the terrorists are using to convert this massive landmass into a hotbed of conflict and terrorism.
The problem is that some parties are continuing to talk about emptying the Sinai Peninsula of its inhabitants, albeit temporarily, in order to assist the Egyptian army in this battle against the terrorists that are present there. These calls ultimately do not serve Egypt’s war on terrorism, but will only serve to complicate the situation by angering the people of Sinai and inevitably helping the terrorists in their efforts to gain more recruits. So Egypt must seek to win over the people, not alienate them. What happened in Fallujah in Iraq is an important lesson, as Baghdad lost the support of the people there who ultimately backed the terrorists against the state. Although there are many differences between Sinai and Fallujah, and the situation in Egypt and Iraq, this is still an important lesson that Cairo must understand.
There is another aspect of this war that requires careful consultation in order to ensure that the terrorists cannot exploit the Egyptian position. Here, I am talking about some of the actions taken by the state within the framework of addressing the Muslim Brotherhood’s plots and schemes and even with how it is seeking to confront and prevent terrorist operations. This has become the subject of controversy and criticism by some political and youth groups in Egypt that strongly backed the revolution and which nobody can say have any ties to the outlawed Brotherhood. For example, there is a lot of controversy surrounding Egypt’s anti-protest law, as well as the arrest and trial of a number of youth activists. This is not to mention criticism of security apparatus entering university campuses, the establishment of a “community police” force and some proposed amendments to Egypt’s anti-terror legislation which some fear could lead to restrictions on basic freedoms.
Those who love Egypt and wish it the best—and they are many—want to see it overcome the current challenges and recover its traditional position, because this is something that would serve the interests of the region as a whole. The most important gamble, and the biggest challenge, is for Egypt to win this war on terror without either losing Sinai or the battle for freedom and democracy.