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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More