[News] The Great War of Sinai - How to Lose a War on Terror
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 5 11:39:37 EST 2015
February 05, 2015
*The ‘Great War’ of Sinai*
How to Lose a ‘War on Terror’
by RAMZY BAROUD
The Sinai Peninsula has moved from the margins of Egyptian body politic
to the uncontested center, as Egypt’s strong man – President Abdul Fatah
al-Sisi – finds himself greatly undercut by the rise of an insurgency
that seems to be growing stronger with time.
Another series of deadly and coordinated attacks
on January 29, shattered the Egyptian army’s confidence, pushing it
further into a deadly course of a war that can only be won by political
sagacity, not bigger guns.
The latest attack
was a blow to a short-lived sense of gratification felt by the regime
that militancy in Sinai had been waning, thanks to a decisive military
response that lasted for months. When militants carried out a multistage
attack on an Egyptian military checkpoint in Sinai, on October 24,
killing 31 and wounding many, the Egyptian government and media lines
were most predictable. They blamed ‘foreigners’ for what was essentially
a homegrown security and political crisis.
Instead of reexamining Egypt’s entire approach to the poor region of
North Sinai, the army moved to further isolate Gaza, which has been
under a very strict Israeli-Egyptian siege since 2007.
What has taken place in Sinai since last October was predictably
shattering. It was seen by some as ethnic cleansing
in the name of fighting terror. Thousands of families were being forced
to evacuate their homes to watch them being detonated in the middle of
the night, and resentment grew as a consequence.
And with resentment comes defiance. A Sinai resident, Abu Musallam
his people’s attitude towards government violence: “They bomb the house;
we build a hut. They burn the hut; we build another hut. They kill; we
Yet, despite a media blackout in Sinai, the scene of devastation created
by the military campaign was becoming palpable. “Using bulldozers and
dynamite” the army has demolished as many as 800 houses and displaced up
to 10,000, the New York Times reported
Sisi spokesman referred to the demolished neighborhoods as terrorist
“hotbeds”. The long-discussed plan for a “buffer zone” between Egypt and
Gaza was carried out, and to a more devastating degree than expected.
The Jerusalem Post quoted the Egyptian publication, Al-Yom a-Sab’a
reporting that “the security forces will work to clear the area of
underground tunnels leading to Gaza and it will also level any buildings
and structures that could be used to conceal smuggling activity.”
But no Gaza connection was ever found. The logic of a Gaza connection
was bewildering to begin with. Attacks of this nature are more likely to
worsen Gaza’s plight and tighten the siege, since the tunnels serve as a
major lifeline for the besieged Palestinians. If the attacks carry a
political message, it would be one that serves the interest of Gaza’s
enemies, Israel and rival Palestinian factions, for example, not Hamas.
But no matter, Sisi, who rarely paused to consider Sinai’s extreme
and near-total negligence by Cairo, was quick to point the finger. Then,
he called on Egyptians to “be aware of what is being hatched against us.
All that is happening to us is known to us and we expected it and talked
about it before July 3,” he said, referring to the day the military
overthrew Mohammed Morsi
In a televised speech, he blamed “foreign hands” that are “trying to
break Egypt’s back,” vowing to fight extremism in a long-term campaign.
Considering the simmering anger and sorrow felt by Egyptians, the
attacks were an opportunity to acquire a political mandate that would
allow him to carry whatever military policy that suited his interests in
Sinai, starting with a buffer zone with Gaza.
While awaiting the bodies of the dead soldiers in Almaza military
airport in Cairo, Sisi spoke of a ‘great war’
that his army is fighting in the Sinai. “These violent incidents are a
reaction to our efforts to combat terrorism. The toll during the last
few months has been very high and every day there are scores of
terrorists who are killed and hundreds of them have already been
Without much monitoring in Sinai, and with occasional horror stories
leaking out of the hermetically sealed desert of 60,000 square
kilometers, and the admission of ‘scores’ killed ‘everyday,’ Sinai is
reeling in a vicious cycle.
Resentment of the government in Sinai goes back many years, but it has
peaked since the ousting of President Morsi. True, his one year in power
also witnessed much violence, but not at the same level as today’s.
Since the January 2011 revolution, Egypt was ruled by four different
regimes: The supreme military council, the administration of Mohammed
Morsi, a transitional government led by Adli Mansour, and finally the
return of the military to civilian clothes under Abdul Fatah al-Sisi.
None have managed to control the violence in Sinai
Sisi, however, insists on using the violence, including the most recent
attacks that struck three different cities at once – Arish, Sheikh
Zuwaid and Rafah – for limited political gain. He blamed the Muslim
(MB) once more without providing much evidence. The MB, in turn,
released a short statement
<http://fj-p.com/Our_news_Details.aspx?News_ID=62623> blaming government
neglect and brutality in Sinai for the violence, which promises to increase.
Following the October killings, I wrote: “If the intentions are to truly
curb attacks in Sinai, knee-jerk military solutions will backfire.”
Others too sounded the alarm that the security solution will not work.
What should have been common sense – Sinai’s problems are, after all
complex and protracted – was brushed aside in the rush for war. The
folly of the military action in the last few months may be registering
internationally, at last, but certainly not locally.
That denial is felt through much of the Egyptian media. A top military
expert, Salamah Jawhari declared on television
that the “Sinai terrorists are clinically dead” and the proof is the
well-coordinated attacks of January 29. Per his logic, the attacks,
which targeted three main cities all at once were ‘scattered’, thus the
‘clinical death’ of the militants. He blamed Qatar and Turkey for
supporting the militants of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which, as of November
vowed allegiance to the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS), announcing their
new name: ‘The Sinai Province’.
The massive comeback of Sinai’s militants and the change of tactics
indicate that the war in Sinai is heading to a stage unseen since the
revolution, in fact since the rise of militancy in Sinai starting with
the deadly bombings <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Sinai_bombings>
of October 2004, followed by the attack on tourists in April 2005, at
the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in the same year, and on Dahab in 2006. The
militants are much more emboldened, angry and organized.
The audacity of the militants seems consistent with the sense of despair
felt by the tribes of Sinai, who are caught in a devastating
politically-motivated ‘war on terror’.
The question remains: how long will it be before Cairo understands that
violence cannot resolve what are fundamentality political and
socio-economic problems? This is as true in Cairo, as it is in Arish.
/*Ramzy Baroud* – //www.ramzybaroud.net/
<http://www.ramzybaroud.net/>/ – is an internationally-syndicated
columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the
founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD
studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a
Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London)./
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