Egypt cannot come to terms with the cold-blooded massacre of 16 Egyptian
who were sitting down for the traditional Ramadan end-of-fast dinner
near the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Sunday night. Yet this is far from the
first time that militant Islam has struck the country.
president Anwar Sadat and tried to assassinate Hosni Mubarak; Jihadist and other
terror organizations that draw their inspiration from the creed of the Muslim
Brotherhood have murdered hundreds of Egyptians and tourists between the ’70s
and the fall of Mubarak.
However, during those years, ordinary Egyptians
did not really feel concerned; for them, it was more a matter of Islamists
fighting a corrupt and dictatorial regime. This is no longer the case. A
people’s revolution has brought to power a democratically elected president and
he has to answer to the people, who angrily demand explanations for what is
perceived as a colossal failure.
This is a first for Egypt, and it shows
a deep-seated change in the attitude of the people.
It might even be the
most significant result of the attack. Spurred to action and hoping to appease
public opinion, the army has at long last launched retaliatory raids in the
Sinai Peninsula, finding with apparent ease the terrorists’ hiding places and
killing 20 of them. Which means that the army knew well enough where Islamist
militants could be found. There has been so far no independent confirmation of
the scope of the offensive and the numbers of killed and wounded, which may have
been slightly exaggerated to pacify angry Egyptians. Still, it begs the
question: why did not the army act during the past 18 months, while Islamic
militants were busy attacking police stations and road blocks, not to mention
the pipeline bringing natural gas to Israel and Jordan and killing at least 20
soldiers and officers and setting up smuggling routes to bring weapons and
ammunition from Sudan and Libya to the Gaza strip? A Salafist splinter group
even proclaimed the Sheik Zoued area an “Islamic Emirate.”
ago, Israel agreed to let the Egyptians bring reinforcements over and beyond the
number specified in the Camp David Accords. So why didn’t the army do so? Why
wasn’t there a concerted push to fight the terrorist organizations mushrooming
throughout the peninsula and enlisting more and more Beduin in their fight
against law and order? It is true that the generals were busy trying to manage
the deepening economic crisis and the tricky political transition, and did not
or could not divert their attention to what was going on in the
The extent of the army’s failure to act has now been laid bare
for all to see – and suddenly President Mohamed Morsy has found himself held
responsible, to the extent that he did not dare attend the funeral of the slain
The hapless prime minister, Hesham Kandil – barely a week in
office – sent in his stead was roundly abused and had to duck a volley of
Morsy, who understood he had to move fast, fired a number of
highranking defense personalities from the old regime, including governor of
Northern Sinai and chief of intelligence Murad Mowafi, one of the main people
responsible for the failure. In his defense, the man declared ingenuously that
he had been warned of the attack but “could not believe that Islamists would
kill Egyptian soldiers.”
There is no doubt that the prestige of the
Egyptian army has been damaged, thus weakening the Supreme Council of the Armed
Forces at a very inopportune moment. Morsy lost no time in capitalizing on this
fact to get rid of a number of generals closely linked to the former regime. The
army had no choice but to do his bidding. Newcomers will be chosen for their
sympathy to the Brotherhood; this is the longawaited first step toward doing
away with the old army guard by pensioning them off and appointing officers
closer to the new regime in their stead. The Muslim Brothers have no wish to go
on sharing power with the army.
But the events also brought to light the
deep divide among Egyptians who support the Brotherhood and those who want a
more secular regime. The latter had been losing ground since the elections,
which gave 47 percent of the seats in the parliament to the Brothers and 25% to
the Salafists. Suddenly they are raising their heads and holding the government
Witness the unprecedented attack on the prime minister
during the funerals – and the absence of the president, who feared popular
anger. Shots were fired at the Brotherhood’s headquarters and guards had to be
posted at their institutions throughout the country. For it is clear that the
terrorists who murdered the soldiers believed in the Brothers’ ideology; they
came to kill in the name of Islam and to hasten the advent of “the true Islam.”
Morsy must tackle this difficult issue even though he shares their ideology and
aspires to see Islam ruling the entire Middle East and then the world. The
tenets of the Brotherhood were set down by the founding fathers more than 80
years ago and they are the basis of all Islamic terror – from Al-Qaida to the
numerous Islamic Jihadistic groups. Now that the Brotherhood has achieved is
first goal, to gain control of Egypt, can it turn its back on the values for
which it has been fighting for so long? Can it forget ideology and take the
practical approach necessary to govern a modern country in need of urgent
economic reforms? Morsy’s reaction to what happened in Sinai shows the depth of
his embarrassment. Witness the extreme reluctance of the regime to name the
perpetrators of the massacre and the recurrent use of the phrase “unknown
assailants” or thinly veiled allusions to the Mossad. Because, of course, in
Egypt, when all else fails, one can always blame Israel. And so a “spontaneous”
demonstration vociferously called for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled.
This does not bode well for the future of relations between the two countries,
which should be joining forces to fight a common enemy in Sinai.
Egyptians be content with a token reprisal raid or will they invest time, money
and effort to eradicate Islamist terror cells in Sinai? It is obvious that there
will be no long-term solution without an all-out effort to help the some 300,000
Beduin living in the peninsula in conditions of extreme poverty and neglect.
Unfortunately, it is not likely to happen anytime soon.
Morsy has neither
the resources nor the political will to do anything about it. He is doing his
best to ignore the elephant in the room: Hamas, the Gaza offshoot of the Muslim
Brothers, which must have known of the attack in advance but did nothing. What
we will probably see is some kind of working agreement according to which Hamas
will do its utmost to prevent similar events in order not to further embarrass
Morsy. Meanwhile, the flow of contraband armaments will go on unabated, and at
the same time, the Egyptians will clamor for a revision of the peace agreement
and the remilitarization of Sinai.
This is not what the terrorists at
Kerem Shalom intended. Not only did they fail in their attempt to kill as many
Israelis as possible, they have thrown Egypt into disarray.
What they did
may well turn out to be a watershed in the history of post-revolution Egypt.
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