Forty-six years ago, in what Egyptians describe as the Naksa, Egypt lost Sinai to Israel during the 6-Days War. Egypt is now witnessing a new Naksa episode. Naksa 2 is unfolding in which Sinai is gradually slipping out of control of the central authority and falling under the influence of non-state players. These players are a ghostly bunch that hide in the mountains and commit various act of terror under various pretexts. Ironically, the attackers are not really “enemies,” but they are brothers of the “Brothers,” and part of the large Islamist tribe that currently rules Egypt.
This probably explains the following statement published in the official FB of the Egyptian presidency following the kidnapping of three policemen and four soldiers in Northern Sinai early this week, “The President gave his order to continue the efforts to release the kidnapped soldiers and is keen on keeping both the kidnapped and kidnappers alive.”
As such, the supreme leader of Egypt’s armed forces is actually Mr. Neutral who wants both sides to be happy.
The kidnapping incident, like all the current events in Egypt, was immediately enriched with rumors, accusations and counter accusations, and subjective views and speculation, making it very hard to separate fact from fiction. There were, however, a few facts and some observations that are worth highlighting:
Sinai has become increasingly lawless since Mubarak was ousted in 2011, in a previous post in2012 as surreal, while in 2013 alone, there were several episodes, (Check the diary of Aak: week 3,11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 19). There were some security problems in Sinai during Mubarak’s time, but they were never at this scale or frequency, and were promptly dealt with, albeit mostly in a very ruthless and often unjust way. In addition, the 2012 brutal attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers is still shrouded in mystery, with the murderers still at large.
The relationship between security forces and people of Sinai of Sinai is one of deep animosity and a desire for vengeance. The kidnapping of soldiers, however, as well as policemen, undermines that claim to a certain degree. It raises bigger questions, particularly, whether the interests of Sinai tribes contradicts the national security interests of Egypt as a state. There are reports that claim the families of Salafist prisoners in Tora prison have protested against their alleged torture in the prison, but the demand of the kidnappers is to release members of the Islamist group Al-Tawhid-wal-Jihad (convicted of killing six members of the security forces in Sinai 2011), and not to stop their mistreatment.
In this week’s incident, the kidnappers deliberately looked at the IDs of everyone inside the minibus. Civilians were spared and soldiers/policemen were taken. No wonder, Police in Sinai feel resentment and injustice. Their closure of the Rafah border indicates the depth of their anger and also indicates whom they blame for the entire crisis.
• Since the revolution, Sinai has been dragged in the dirty power politics of Cairo. Politicians on both sides are using it to score points in the ongoing battle for dominance and control.
- The Islamist camp is collecting evidence against Sissi, at least to incriminate him in front of the public. Sissi was the head of military intelligence during the 2012 Rafah massacre of Egyptian soldiers. Now others have been kidnapped under his leadership as the General Commander of the Army. This is more evidence of his “incompetence” and even “negligence.”
- Both the Interior and Defense Ministry are viewed with suspicion, even with hatred by Islamists for various reasons. The Islamists, however, are more rattled by Defense Minister General Sissi due to his growing popularity, and meanwhile they regard the Interior Minister as their loyal man. This is precisely why the non-Islamist camp views the kidnapping as part of a plot to undermine Sissi.
- Two unfounded rumors are spreading among opposition groups, and among the Egyptian public. One claim is that Hamas is behind the kidnapping. The other claim is that radical jihadists have been recruited by the Israeli Mossad. The rumors are mostly inaccurate, neither Israel, nor Hamas has any vested interest in inflaming Sinai at this stage, but there are many other players, particularly radical Salafi groups in Gaza who may have different interests.
The handling of the crisis in Sinai will have a huge impact on Egypt’s future security and political scene. Like any non-state players, Islamists groups in Sinai have mixed just and unjust grievances. Sinai is neglected, but the army’s quest to regain control of Sinai is unwelcome for various reasons. As the leadership in Cairo is infested with rivalries and mistrust on a wider scale, it is worse than 1967, and many are using the “just” to justify the “unjust.” This must end if the Egyptian leadership wants to stop Naksa 2 from unfolding.