Horror in Sinai

Egypt is experiencing tumultuous times; it is a reminder that Egypt and Israel, as well as the region as a whole, confront similar enemies; extremism and terrorism.

July 2, 2015 21:46
3 minute read.
sinai smoke

Smoke rises in Egypt's North Sinai as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt July 1, 2015. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

On Wednesday, cowardly terrorists killed more than 100 Egyptian police and civilians. As terrorism hit the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian security forces swept in and killed nine armed men in Cairo just days after the top state prosecutor was assassinated.

Egypt is experiencing tumultuous times. It is a reminder that Egypt and Israel, as well as the region as a whole, confront similar enemies; extremism and terrorism.

In each country there are those elements that seek to spread murderous ideologies and harm civilian life.

The rise of Islamic State in Sinai is the latest culmination of years of turmoil in the peninsula. Under Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, the extremists were encouraged to strike down roots. According to interviews Egyptian security officials gave to foreign media, the harm done to civilians and security in Sinai was at the heart of then-Gen. Adbel Fattah al-Sisi’s outrage at the mismanagement of Egypt under Morsi.

Morsi ordered the army to give free rein to extremists, who often victimized Egyptians in the area.

Northern Sinai has long been home to localized Islamist groups, such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. These groups have bombed Beduin shrines and sought to impose their strict version of Islamist ideology on the inhabitants.

It has harmed tourism and sought to impose the kind of chaos present in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

After the election of Sisi last year, these groups pledged loyalty to Islamic State and carried out attacks on security forces. In January, car bombs were detonated outside a military base, mortars were fired and hotels, checkpoints and an officers’ club were targeted.

“About 600,000 people live on the whole of Sinai, and the terrorists are only a fraction of that. They cannot threaten the unity of Egypt. They are only attracting attention because their actions are so diabolical.

We are determined to fight the terrorists,” Sisi told Der Spiegel in February of this year. Sisi also said in interviews that he is in close contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that there is “trust and confidence” between Israel and Egypt. He speaks often with Israel’s leader.

Sisi has tried to prevent terrorists from smuggling with and infiltrating the Gaza Strip. After attacks on the army last year, he imposed a state of emergency in Rafah and set about clearing a 1-kilometer buffer zone with Gaza. He sought to end the phenomenon of smuggling tunnels. But Sisi has not been silent on the need for Israel to do more in its negotiations with the Palestinians. “You cannot defuse the current problems in the area... without a large positive move,” he told reporters, referring to the need for Israel to work closer with the Palestinian Authority.

The Egyptian army has upped its presence throughout the peninsula in the last year, especially in the north around El-Arish. It has thrown up security checkpoints throughout the area and doubled troop levels. The IDF has granted Egyptian requests to up its troop levels, as the 1979 peace treaty requires agreement with Israel relating to military matters in the peninsula. Israel has also closed its border with Egypt following the attacks.

Egyptian tourism has taken a major hit since the Arab Spring. In choice destinations such as Luxor, numbers declined by 95 percent between 2010 and 2013. Across the country, tourism declined by 35 percent. This is part of the agenda of groups affiliated with Islamic State. Just as in the recent Tunisia attacks, they seek to strike at the tourist infrastructure and destroy the economy as a prelude to destroying the country in general.

Israel, Egypt and the stable Gulf states all are in the same boat on this issue. They seek a region of peace and prosperity while their enemies, such as Islamic State and Iran, seek a chaotic region dominated by beheadings, mass murder and extremism. Sisi has promised a renewed effort to combat this threat not only with bullets but also socially, in mosques and cultural settings.

This is a welcome development.

Western democracies, such as the EU and US, should be outspoken in confronting the depredations of Islamic State. They face an important litmus test.

Islamic State advertises exactly what it is, releasing videos of the brutal drowning of men convicted of minor religious violations, and beheading women.

It is time to confront this ideology throughout the region, beginning in Sinai.

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