Arab World: Unintended consequences

A people’s revolution has brought to power a democratically elected president and he has to answer to the people.

Anti MB Morsy (R370) (photo credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/ Reuters)
Anti MB Morsy (R370)
(photo credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/ Reuters)
Egypt cannot come to terms with the cold-blooded massacre of 16 Egyptian soldiers 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.
Islamists murdered 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.”
Several months 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 peninsula.
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 soldiers.
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 shoes.
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 accountable.
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.
Will the 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.