Egyptians have greeted with relief the move by the Armed Forces to create a buffer zone on the Egypt Gaza border, meaning that it should be evacuated from its residents. The decision was taken in the wake of the terrorist car bombing on 24 October which claimed the lives of 33 Egyptian soldiers and left 25 injured, not the first since the 30 June 2013 Revolution which overthrew the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Ever since that date terrorist operations have repeatedly targeted Egypt’s military, police and civilians. The terrorists and arms evidently entered Egypt through the Gaza border.
The relief at the evacuation move was proportional to the build-up of Egyptian wrath at the increased terrorist operations and the rising numbers of victims and injured, and also at what they perceived to have been inaction by the Egyptian authorities; the move was long overdue. The Egypt Gaza border area included numerous squatter settlements that acted as safe havens for access to the notorious tunnels used in smuggling arms and terrorists into Egypt.
Talk about evacuating the border with Gaza started in August 2013, the date the five-week-long MB sit-ins in Cairo were disbanded. The terrorist suicidal operations that followed aimed at shaking the confidence of Egyptians in their Armed Forces, and projecting to the world an image of a broken military force unable to control and protect the land. At the time, the Armed Forces pledged to wage a fierce war against the terrorists and purge Egypt of them. They chased them through the mountains, caves, and rough terrain of Sinai, only to discover that the human and arms supplies came through the countless tunnels that riddled the border between Gaza and Sinai and that flowed into the houses on the border. At this point the army announced it would evacuate the area of its residents and move them to new homes further west of the border in order to be able to raze the homes that included the tunnel openings. The plan was to clear a five-kilometre deep buffer zone that would be easily controlled by security, so that no more tunnels would be dug and no more terrorists would sneak into Sinai.
The plan represented a shrewd strategy and, once executed, would have blocked the road before the evil which threatened the security and sovereignty of Egypt. But this plan was never put into action. The terrorist operations never stopped and Egyptian blood was inexhaustibly spilt. The initial delay by the army and the government was in a way excusable because of the time needed to destroy all the tunnels and construct substitute homes. Long months passed, however; terrorist operations augmented, and no evacuation took place. A general feeling of distress gave way to frustration and anger. The question that begged an answer was why the delay? The Armed Forces were surely well aware of the danger of letting sleeping dogs lie; what with the arms and terrorists that flow into Sinai through the tunnels. So why the delay that allowed terrorism to strike and boast fake victory at the expense of the Egyptian blood spilt?
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the recent bombing that killed 33 of our young men. The army rushed to execute its evacuation plan in order to create the buffer zone on the Egypt Gaza border. With a sigh of relief I uttered: “At last!” The border residents were secured safe exit and relocated in new homes further west of the border. I was amazed, however, that such an essential move triggered an outcry in the media and among rights activists who cast doubts on its legality and wept over the curtailed rights of the displaced. Yet these claims were quickly refuted, and the move proved constitutional and in the interest of Egyptian national security. The rights of the residents were honoured and they were properly compensated.
There are fears that the displacement process would work to move the focal point of terrorism from the Egypt Gaza border further inland. I care to say that even if the displaced have undergone rigorous searches for weapons or ammunitions, their consciences cannot be searched for terrorist thought or evil intentions. I hope that those in charge of the displacement operation have sufficient wisdom to put in place strict measures and close surveillance to ensure the displaced residents would not carry out terrorist activity anew wherever they set foot.
9 November 2014