News / Middle East

Sinai: Egypt's Growing Security Threat

Egyptian Army soldiers in armored personnel carriers and a helicopter gunship patrol through a village in the northern Sinai Sept. 7, 2013.
Egyptian Army soldiers in armored personnel carriers and a helicopter gunship patrol through a village in the northern Sinai Sept. 7, 2013.
Mohamed Elshinnawi
Just days ago, the Egyptian army began what it called the "largest military campaign against the terrorists in the northern Sinai Peninsula," saying the campaign would continue until the whole area is, in its words, "fully cleansed."

Army Colonel Ahmed Ali said the army has so far targeted 118 terrorist bases and destroyed three large weapons caches and 33 vehicles that had been modified to carry heavy weapons. The army said it had killed at least 30 militants in about a dozen villages in recent operations using troops and helicopter gunships.
 
Egypt’s military said the campaign is in response to militant violence that has claimed the lives of dozens of police and army officers since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in July.

On Wednesday, the militants struck back. Two suicide bombers rammed vehicles into an Egyptian army intelligence office building in the town of Rafah, on the frontier with the Gaza Strip, and into an army checkpoint nearby. At least nine army soldiers were killed more than a dozen wounded.
 
The bodies of Egyptian policemen who were killed near the border town of Rafah, North Sinai, Egypt, lie on the ground Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.The bodies of Egyptian policemen who were killed near the border town of Rafah, North Sinai, Egypt, lie on the ground Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.
x
The bodies of Egyptian policemen who were killed near the border town of Rafah, North Sinai, Egypt, lie on the ground Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.
The bodies of Egyptian policemen who were killed near the border town of Rafah, North Sinai, Egypt, lie on the ground Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.
Jihadist violence has a long history in the northern Sinai.  Even before the Egyptian revolution, the region had been a base for drug and weapons smuggling, human trafficking and a wide array of militant activity.

Egypt’s Sinai border with Israel and Gaza and its proximity to the Suez Canal make the region an area of strategic importance.

Experts say the current militancy and lawlessness has the potential to threaten regional stability, the Egyptian-Israeli peace accords and Egyptian national security.

Ehud Yaari, an Israeli-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East policy, argues that since Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the Sinai Peninsula has emerged as a new hotspot for terrorists.

“Parts of the Sinai resemble an extension of Gaza, as certain groups forged close military, political, ideological and economic ties with Hamas through the tunnels connecting the two sides of the border,” Yaari said.
 
Emerging Terrorist Groups

Yaari said one of the jihadist groups, Al-Tawhid Wal-jihad, is the product of militant doctrines that have proliferated among the Sinai Bedouin since the late 1980’s. Another group, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in the environs of Jerusalem, has a small presence in Gaza as well as Sinai. Other groups include Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (“Supporters of the Holy Temple”), which is based entirely among Sinai Bedouin tribes, where it has been active for several years along with Ansar al-Jihad.

Yaari said some of the militant supporters of these groups have migrated to the Sinai in recent years seeking to build an ideal Islamic society in the largely lawless region.
 
Retired army general Hossam Sweilam, former president of the Egyptian army’s Center for Strategic Studies, said there are nine known terrorist groups based in Sinai that comprise Jihadi Salafi, Hamas and al-Qaida elements.

“These organizations were emboldened by terrorists who fled from prisons during the revolution like Dr. Ramzi Muwafi, who was serving a life sentence, and by the Muslim Brotherhood government, which he said allowed non-Egyptian Islamist militants to reside in Sinai," he said.

Sweilam estimates the number of militants in Sinai at about 3,500, which he said are under the leadership of Ramzi Muwafi, who is calling his group the Egypt Free Army.
According to Sweilam, there is a connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rise of violence in the Sinai. The Muslim Brotherhood strongly denies any involvement in the Sinai attacks, but Sweilam, who supports Egypt’s military-backed government, disagrees.

“Prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagi said that the attacks in Sinai could stop in a second if President Mohamed Morsi is re-instated.” he said.

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Why Sinai?
 
Sahar Aziz, a professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, says the Egyptian central government’s neglect of the region has pushed some Bedouin tribes into the smuggling business.
 
“As a consequence the Bedouin were presumed to be criminals and traffickers, resulting in collective punishment through arbitrary arrest and detention, followed by military trials pursuant to the three-decade-long emergency law,” she said.   
 
Ehud Yaari, an Israeli analyst, said that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak also contributed to the anger of Sinai tribes by neglecting development in favor of other regions of Egypt.  
 
“By 1997, Mubarak’s advisors convinced him to channel funds allocated for Sinai economic development to the Toshka Project aimed at creating a second Nile Valley in Southern Egypt,” Yaari said. “The Sinai soon returned to the bottom of government’s priorities list.” 
 
The collapse of central authority during Egyptian revolution led to another change in the Sinai said Sahar Aziz. “Shortly after the 2011 revolution, an influx of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles from Libya into Sinai began worsening the situation,” she said. “This continued throughout Morsi’s presidency. Some arms found their way into Gaza via underground tunnels, while others stayed in Sinai under the control of extremist groups.”
 
The future
 
Both Ehud Yaari and Hossam Sweilam agreed that there is no quick fix to the problems posed by the security situation in the Sinai.  Restarting large-scale economic development plans would require funding that is not available, and disarming Bedouin groups is not a realistic option.  But both said the Sinai could be stabilized.
 
Yaari pointed to Israel approving an amendment to the peace accords that allowed the Egyptian army to deploy seven battalions in the Sinai equipped with tanks and Apache helicopters to strike at pockets of militancy and cited growing security cooperation between Egypt and Israel. 
 
Retired army general Sweilam said he expects the current military operations in the Sinai to last several months and he points to some recent successes.  
 
“An Egyptian Apache [helicopter] spotted terrorists as they were preparing to launch their rocket across the border into Israel,” he said. “Four militants were killed by a missile.”  Sweilam added that with the ouster of the Morsi government, Egypt’s army now has the authority to attack militant safe havens.
 
“The Egyptian army launched attacks against the terrorist safe havens and destroyed an expanded series of smuggling tunnels,” he said. 
 
Sweilam also said that he believes when the current military campaign in Sinai is completed, Egypt’s government will launch a number of economic development projects in the northern Sinai and make a real effort to respond to legitimate grievances of the Sinai population. The governor of the northern Sinai recently unveiled a six-month economic development plan despite the current security challenges.  
 
For now, though, Egypt’s military-backed government is focused instead on defeating on what it sees as a growing militant threat.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs