Crackdown reactions show Egypt’s post-election rifts

After Egyptian military claims to kill 20 terrorists in push to regain control of Sinai, Morsy announces sacking of intel chief.

Egyptian soldiers in Sinai 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Egyptian soldiers in Sinai 370
(photo credit: reuters)
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.
Opponents of Morsy blame him for opening the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
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.
So 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 reported.
“This is a manifestation of how divided Egypt is right now.
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 call.
The scene of the funeral was another manifestation of the divide in Egypt.”
Morsy took 51.7 percent of the vote in June, while Ahmed Shafik, who was ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, received 48.3%.
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 popularity.
However, now there are cracks in the veneer, giving way to more vocal criticism of Morsy and the Islamist political orientation he represents.
“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 forcefully.
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 hospitals.
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 said.
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 surprise.
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 attack.
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 Sinai.
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 Sinai.
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 asked.
“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.”