The Egyptian army cracked down on the Sinai Peninsula early Wednesday in a
display of power that included planes dropping bombs near the Israeli border,
and was aimed at demonstrating that the military and the country’s new president
are in control of the area.
But widely conflicting reports about the
military activity and its reported success are indicative of the increasingly
polarized situation in Egypt – where the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy, who
was narrowly elected president in a runoff vote in late June, has come under a
torrent of criticism. The recent show of force stems from Sunday’s attack near
the border, which left 16 of Egypt’s army personnel dead.
Morsy blame him for opening the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and
The lax restrictions, they argue, made it easier for Islamic
terrorists to pass through and enabled them to launch Sunday evening’s attack on
Egyptian border guards as they were about to break their Ramadan fast.
strong is the apparent frustration with Morsy among some Egyptians that the new
president had to absent himself from the massive public funeral procession for
his own safety, and his prime minister had to be removed from the scene and
rushed to safety by bodyguards.
Mourners heckled the premier, shouting,
“You killed them, you dog,” Egypt’s state-run Ahram Online website
“This is a manifestation of how divided Egypt is right
Those who participated in the funeral are those who are very
critical of the president,” explained Gamal Soltan, director of Cairo’s Al-Ahram
Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“He had to choose whether to
be in a situation where he might be criticized or even attacked. It was a tough
The scene of the funeral was another manifestation of the divide in
Morsy took 51.7 percent of the vote in June, while Ahmed Shafik,
who was ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, received
Many of Morsy’s opponents – including secularists, Coptic
Christians and proponents of liberal democracy – have kept a slighter lower
profile in recent months because of the Brotherhood’s apparently overwhelming
However, now there are cracks in the veneer, giving way to
more vocal criticism of Morsy and the Islamist political orientation he
“In the current debate after the attacks, we’re seeing how
divided the Egyptians are on who is to be blamed, and many blame Morsy himself
and the Muslim Brothers in general,” Soltan added.
The rush to execute
air strikes – carried out around the town of Sheikh Zuwai close to the border
with Gaza – look like bluster to some.
Critics on the Cairo talk show
circuit and on Twitter asked whether the military actions had actually achieved
anything or were just an attempt to show that they could act swiftly and
Other attacks on police stations in recent months had gone
unanswered. Several local reporters said they were unable to confirm the 20
fatalities as reported on official state television, and could not find any
witnesses who had seen bodies or injured people being admitted to
In addition to the military action, Morsy also announced late
Wednesday afternoon that he was replacing his intelligence chief, military
police commander and North Sinai governor, a presidential spokesman
The shake-up of senior officials was clearly aimed at laying blame
at the feet of those responsible for the security situation in Sinai and for the
intelligence lapses that allowed the military establishment to be so taken by
The Brotherhood, while taking a much more moderate line than
the Salafi politicians Morsy has sidelined by leaving out of his cabinet, has
long been critical of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
A report in
Cairo’s Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper said the attack was executed by the radical
Salafi group Takfir Wal Hijra, which believes that the Brotherhood is not nearly
bold enough in its challenge to the status quo vis-à-vis Israel. The report also
said that the Army of Islam may have taken part in the
Brotherhood sympathizers have suggested that Egypt’s hands are
tied when it comes to securing the Sinai Peninsula because of the limitations of
the Camp David Peace Accords, which demand a largely demilitarized
But Israeli officials have made clear that they are willing to be
flexible in meeting Egyptian needs on the matter, and in the past year allowed
for more troops to be stationed in Sinai. However, out of seven battalions to
which Israel gave the green light, apparently only one was added, said Zvi
Marzel, a former ambassador to Egypt.
“Six or seven months ago, there was
a crisis, so both armies agreed to pushing seven battalions into
They never did it. They probably sent one, even less. In fact,
they don’t use what they have at their disposal, though that may change, and in
the short run there will be some cooperation,” he said.
“This is also a
very big dilemma for Morsy and the Muslim Brothers. They had to do this
operation for their own public opinion, but what’s next?” Marzel
“Are they going to invest money to improve the situation there?
Are they going to cooperate with us to control terror in the Sinai?” Soltan said
this week was Morsy’s greatest test so far, and Egyptians will be watching to
see how he handles it.
“It’s a divided society passing through an
extremely difficult time,” Soltan added.
“On the other hand, this could
be an opportunity to try to bridge the divide. It could assure those who have
doubts about him, if he can prove himself.”