Sinai and the open-ended adventure

It is hard to describe what has happened in Sinai in the last few weeks, although “surreal” may be the only appropriate word. It started with a tragedy on the holy month of Ramadan, when 16 Egyptian soldiers lost their lives on the 5thof August to “Islamists” terrorists. The sequence of events following may sound illogical and incoherent to some: the ordered retirement of Tantawi and Annan; the tanks sent to Sinai; Operation Eagle, and the arrest and killing of alleged Jihadists; the promise to close “all tunnels” between Gaza and Egypt; the Salafi delegation to meet Sinai Jihadists; the opening of the Rafah border permanently between Gaza and Egypt; and finally, the quiet withdrawal some tanks from the military Zone C in Sinai (allegedly).

Make sense?  The logic in these events depends on your perspective. If you are like me and want a solution for Sinai’s deteriorating security situation, then these events may look odd and bizarre. However, if you are following Egypt closely, then it all makes perfect sense. In simple terms, the best way to describe Morsi is as a man who likes to offer something to everyone, mainly to gain easy points in his conquest to solidify his power and build a new legacy. He is a man with much verbal punches but one who does not take risky gambles. His management of the Sinai crisis is just one example: in it, Morsi offered something to each player in the arena.

First, he rewarded himself by claiming credit (rightly or wrongly) for the soft coup inside the military. Regardless of what truly happened behind closed doors, Sinai was the catalyst that finished the career of arguably the strongest men of Egypt (Tantawi, Annan and Mowafi). Morsi emerged as the victorious leader who cleared the army from the symbols of the old regime and consolidated his powerful grip on the country.

Second, by sending tanks to Sinai (seemingly without coordination with Israel), he has effectively rendered the Camp David Treaty as null and invalid; this is great news for the Egyptian public, who despise the treaty and consistently demand for it to be revoked.

Third, opening the Rafah border was great news to Gaza and the Palestinians. Ending the siege of Gaza was always a popular demand. Now Hamas can claim a major political victory despite the economic setback from closing the underground tunnels (if indeed it is “all” closed).

Jihadists are clearly not that concerned; some were even happily interviewed by Arabic satellite channels. After all, their shelter in the Halal mountains seems safe and secure for now and they have had a recent visit from old comrades. There was even some news of a temporary ceasefire with the Egyptian army.

Even Israel received some comforting news in the whole episode: on one front, it has finally closed the Gaza siege file and it is highly unlikely there will be more embarrassing flotilla news. Hamas firmly reject any coordination with a “Zionist entity”; instead, the warlords of Gaza are looking southward for Egypt as their strategic depth. The withdrawal of Egyptian tanks from Zone C, near the border with Egypt, could also be some welcoming news—a message from Morsi that he is not after confrontation.

In short, the events in Sinai may look like a surreal movie, albeit with one twist: this is not a movie; it is reality and a harsh, tragic one where nothing has changed. The situation is exactly the same as before the 5thof August, with the exception of some cosmetic changes—Sinai is still a fertile ground for discontent

The lawlessness peninsula was always a favored playground for Egyptian leaders who enjoyed using and abusing it for political gains. Morsi’s Egypt is no different now, and if he continues with this same path in the near future, episode II of the surreal movie may soon follow; it will be just a matter of time.


About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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3 Responses to Sinai and the open-ended adventure

  1. Zendette says:

    What do you expect from episode 2?


  2. Zendette says:

    It saddens me, as I have fond memories of Sinai, both north and south. It’s an amazing place, yet too vast and rugged to police efficiently and there is too much opportunity for corruption by any politician or military leader who decides to “make order” in the peninsula. CNN’s doing a piece on the terrible situation of Sudanese and other refugees who are trafficked across Sinai. Bedouin do the trafficking, but apparently now some Bedouin elders have been recruited to track down the traffickers. Turning the Bedouin tribes against each other is probably a regime tactic.


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