The Egyptian government scrambled on Monday to show that it could assert its
power over an increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula, following Sunday night’s
attack that led to the deaths of 16 Egyptian soldiers.
forces deployed helicopter gunships to the area – ostensibly to look for
militants on the run but also to flex Egypt’s military muscles – as the
country’s new president, Mohammed Morsy, faced his first major international
crisis since assuming power a little more than a month ago.
several hours for Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood politician who narrowly defeated
secular rival Ahmed Shafik in June, to comment on the attack, but he has since
been talking tough about bringing those responsible to justice.
no room for such a crime in our society. Everyone will see that the Egyptian
security forces, the police and the military will be able to capture those who
are behind this attack, wherever they are,” Morsy said.
still the primary powerbroker in post-Mubarak Egypt, blamed “jihadists” and
called the attackers “infidels” whose bold assault pushed things too far,
“There is a red line and passing it is not acceptable.
Egyptians will not wait for long to see a reaction to this event,” the Egyptian
army said in a statement.
Several of Morsy’s critics took the attack as
an opportunity criticize the new president for being too lax about security
along the border with Gaza. Since the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in runoff
elections in June, the crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has been more
porous than it has been in several years, to the relief of many average
Palestinians, who can’t otherwise leave Gaza.
Following Hamas’ takeover
of the strip on 2007, then-president Hosni Mubarak largely kept the borders
closed – at Israel’s request and to keep militants from spilling over into
Mohammed Abu Hamed, a former liberal member of the Egyptian
parliament and an outspoken critic of Morsy, charged Monday that the task of
asserting control rests on the new president’s shoulders.
bears responsibility for this, which was caused by actions his government has
taken recently, such as opening the crossings and giving amnesty for Islamist
detainees,” Abu Hamed told his followers via Facebook.
measures, which allowed the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the
Gaza Strip without any security measures, allowed the entry of a large number of
extremist religious groups from al-Qaida and others to Sinai in addition to the
elements of Hamas,” Abu Hamed charged. “It is known that these groups have
beliefs and ideas of jihadists who are seeking to involve Egypt in a new
conflict with Israel. This is in addition to the president-elect’s decision to
release a number of extremists, some of them facing death sentences… which is
spreading extremist ideas again in breach of the peace agreement, something that
is not in the public interest.”
Abu Hamed, who is aligned with Shafik and
who started a new party in April called the “Life of the Egyptians” party,
explained in an interview with the Daily News Egypt that his movement is calling
for an “August 24/25 Revolution” – against the Muslim Brotherhood, which he and
like-minded Egyptians say is turning out to be as oppressive as Mubarak’s
The very name is a clever spin-off on the January 25 Revolution,
the name many Egyptians use in reference to the height of the Arab
Spring-inspired protests which brought down Mubarak last year.
ascension of Morsy to power, I am exerting maximum energy to bring the idea of
the revolution against the Brotherhood to Egyptians,” Abu Hamed said in an
August 4 interview.
“Regardless of the outcome of such a move, I believe
that Egypt cannot stand without the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood,
irrespective of who will rule the country afterwards.”
He went on to list
what he views as Morsy’s missteps. “When Morsi challenged the constitution and
the law and decided to reinstate the parliament, the people started to be on
poor terms with him. When he started to overemphasize Hamas and exporting fuel
to Gaza, people were once again dissatisfied with him,” Abu Hamed
The attack on Sunday night is just one of the more palpable signs
of disorder and lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula. Over the weekend, some 900
tourists who were scheduled to travel from Sharm el-Sheikh to Cairo were stuck
for hours due to protests in the southern Sinai. Tourists buses in Nuweiba and
Dahab were also stopped due to a shooting in Nuweiba, local wire services
Those more empathetic to Morsy’s formidable challenges
complained Monday that the peace treaty with Israel ties his hands by allowing
only a limited number of troops in the Sinai.
Following the signing of
the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in 1979, the sides agreed that the Sinai would be
largely demilitarized and that a Multinational Force and Observers would guard
the border instead.
In January 2011, following a popular protest by
Egyptians over the issue, Israel agreed to allow Egypt to move several hundred
troops into the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the peace treaty was
signed. But the additional two battalions, or about 800 soldiers, were permitted
to be based specifically in the Sharm el- Sheikh region, far from the area of
Mark Heller, a regional expert at Tel Aviv
University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said that criticism seemed
more an “excuse” than an explanation.
“There are limitations on Egyptian deployment because of the treaty. Egyptians under Mubarak indicated that they
wanted to step up their force posture in the area, and Israel agreed. But the
major limitations close to the Israeli border are not about deployment of
internal security forces, which would be most appropriate for dealing with this
situation, but it has to do with battle formations and heavy weapons,” Heller
“The challenge of dealing with this sort of problem is not lack of
heavy tanks, but several other factors: the alienation of Sinai Beduin from the
Egyptian government, and the question of the effectiveness of the paramilitary
and Egyptian forces, including how good their intelligence is and how determined
they are to try to deal with the problem.”