Not an Egyptian but has asked how the seven soldiers kidnapped in Sinai were returned. The entire incident raised questions on the real magnitude of the conflict raging in the peninsula
; the entangled relations between the parties to the struggle; and the various roles played by Hamas, the Jihadi Salafis, and the notorious evil triad of rampant gunrunning, human and drug trafficking.
Apart from the exploitation of the kidnap/release incident in the current political conflict in Egypt, the incident fulfils the aim of drawing attention to the strength of the terrorists.
Following the attack against the police station in Arish on 29 July 2011 I wrote, under the title A declaration of autonomy in Sinai, that the peninsula represented a long-standing problem. Since Egypt’s ruler Mohamed Ali declared the Sinai Peninsula an Egyptian directorate in 1810 and until the revolution which overthrew the monarchy in 1952, the Sinai Bedouin rebelled 14 times. Since 1952 and until 1999, there was not a single rebellion. The Bedouin suffered 30 per cent of the losses of the wars on their land in 1956, 1967, and 1973. During the last five years of the rule of Mubarak—from 2005 to 2010—Sinai rebelled 60 times, almost once every month. Some 213 of Sinai residents were tried in 43 cases and sentenced to life imprisonment; 115 were sentenced in absentia.
No one paid much attention to an article printed in the Cairo independent al-Shurouq on 28 May 2011 under the title An unofficial constitutional declaration by 10 Sinai tribes. The Bedouin, the article read, were willing to defend State utilities in Sinai, ensure that no individuals were taken hostage, respect the rules of traditional justice, and arm themselves to confront terrorism. It was the first warning that, on the ground, there existed a desire for autonomy among Sinaians; and also an al-Qaeda movement.
Dominion over Sinai
Al-Qaeda was born in the Saudi Peninsula in 1988. It quickly mushroomed and, in 2009, the al-Qaeda member Abdel-Latif Moussa, a dentist who had graduated from Alexandria University, declared from the pulpit of the Ibn Taimiya mosque in Gaza the establishment of an Islamic emirate. Hamas, however, blew him up together with his followers, killing 12 leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Gundallah, literally Soldiers of Allah, and injuring 112 of its members. This led the local al-Qaeda movement to make a strategic retreat southwards into Sinai.
According to Abdel-Rehim Aly, director of the Arab Centre for Researches and Studies (ACRS), who is also an expert on Islamic movements, there are at least eight movements modelled after al-Qaeda working in Sinai, in addition to the Jihadi Salafis. The ACRS estimates the armed militants in Sinai—and they belong to various nationalities—to number some 10,000 armed with heavy artillery.
The recent kidnapping of the seven Egyptian soldiers confirms that terrorism is alive and kicking in Sinai; any negotiation with the kidnappers is tantamount to an official recognition of the terrorists.
Since 29 July 2011, these terrorists have killed 104 and injured 114 Egyptian soldiers. They blew up the gas pipes which carry Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan 15 times, the purpose being to confirm to the international community their dominion over Sinai. In August 2012 they assassinated the tribal leader Sheikh Khalaf al-Meneie and his son Mohamed as they returned from a Cairo conference to support the Egyptian State. In September 2012 they attacked the Copts of Rafah and succeeded in forcing the eviction of seven Coptic families from Rafah. The result: they sent a message to Egypt and the whole world that Sinai was under their thumb.
All the above leads to a new understanding of the question of why the Islamists insisted that no force should be used to liberate the hostages. This can obviously be attributed to the fact that they do not see the kidnappers as terrorists, neither do they recognise the concept of national sovereignty. Allegiance, according to Islamist principles, is due to Dar al-Islam: the entirety of an all-encompassing Islamic nation; separate national identities and allegiances do not exist. Can anyone forget the words of the former Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahdi Akef who publicly announced: Toz fi Masr (Egypt be damned)?
So where does all that leave us? Terrorism in Sinai not only robs the Bedouin of their dignity and their age-old dominion over the Sinai Peninsula; but also stunts economic growth, whether agricultural or touristic, that could work in favour of the Bedouin. Illicit activities of gunrunning and drug and human trafficking go on full force under the protection and complicity of the terrorists. Hamas is in full control of the tunnels and what goes in and out of Gaza, and shares dominion of the peninsula with the terrorists.
All these elements need to be fully absorbed by the political leadership in Egypt if it is to muster the political and military will to tackle them. But then, this leadership is governed by the principles of political Islam, which robs it of that will.
A round of applause to the Egyptian army, and a warm welcome home to the soldiers who were safely liberated. As for Sinai, we offer our prayers.
31 May 2013