Will Sinai be a second Afghanistan?

05-10-2012 03:41 PM

Soliman Shafiq

So many questions beg answers. Major among them is whether al-Qaeda now really has a base in Sinai? And what relationship is there between al-Qaeda and Salafi Jihadi organisations? And where do the Sinai Bedouin come in?

One need only keep half an eye on the situation in Sinai to see that trouble is in the air, with Jihadis wearing Pakistani and Afghani Islamic attire freely roaming the streets in the Goura market, some 25kms from Arish, heavily armed in broad daylight. The Bedouin elder Sheikh Ibrahim Rafie suspects that the recent armed attacks on army and police squadrons in Sinai, as well as some 41 attacks waged on police patrols over the last two months, are an attempt by the Jihadi organisations to underscore the weakness of the armed forces and police in Sinai. 
Islamic emirate?
To answer these questions, we must go back to Friday 29 July 2011, which was termed ‘Qandahar Friday’ after the Islamic ‘show of force’ in Tahrir Square. On that day Egyptians, seculars and Islamists gathered in the square to supposedly ‘unify their ranks’, but after the gathering took a very different note with Islamists chanting Islamist Jihadi slogans, most seculars withdrew. Black al-Qaeda flags were held high all through Tahrir amidst Islamic chants. 
On that Friday afternoon, Jihadis in Sinai waged an armed attack on the Arish police station and declared Sinai an Islamic emirate. Since that date, Jihadis have waged 81 operations against army and police patrols, leaving 211 killed or injured. 
Some two weeks ago, the attack against the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the US-produced film which disdains the Prophet Mohamed, was also coupled with the black flags carrying the Islamic testimony of faith hung on the embassy walls. And recently, the peacemaking forces in Sinai were assaulted by Jihadis.
Throughout the last decade, terrorist Jihadi organisations, in cooperation with outside Islamist forces, were behind a series of bombings that took place in Sinai. In 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006 there were bombings in Taba, Sharm al-Sheikh and Dahab which claimed lives of tourists and Egyptians. In 2007, 35 members of the organisation of the world Islamist front against Jews and Christians were arrested. The following day, an Egyptian security source announced that security apparatuses received a threat by some ‘terrorist elements’ and that they were about to wage attacks on some vital facilities, such as the Cairo Metro.
Bedouin demands
The Bedouin in Sinai have not a few demands. They require that the State should delegate the intelligence rather than the security authorities to be the official body that deals with the Bedouin, especially considering the good ties between the Bedouin and the intelligence authorities that have existed ever since the war with Israel in 1973. They also demand that those among them who are detained on what they see as ‘fabricated charges’ should be immediately released.
The Bedouin ask for full citizenship rights, including their right to own land in Sinai; that their children should have the right to enrol in military and police academies and that they should subsequently be assigned to posts in Sinai. Most public posts there are to date held by people from outside the Sinai Peninsula.
Bedouin customs and traditions, including the right to resort to traditional, local legal recourse before resorting to the Egyptian judiciary, should be honoured.
Base in Egypt
According to a study compiled by the Arab Centre for Research and Study (ACRS), al-Qaeda announced that it has had a 250-member-strong base in Egypt since May 2006, and that the Egyptian base of al-Qaeda is equipped with firearms, explosives, bombs and explosive belts.
According to the ACRS study, al-Qaeda confirmed that it was in touch with the Sinai Bedouin to persuade them that their rights would only be served through an Islamic emirate.
The ACRS study predicted that Sinai would turn into a military battleground, where vital institutions would be targeted and unrest would prevail before it can be declared an Islamic emirate.
The study also predicted that on the structural level, al-Qaeda would join forces with other Islamist forces, such as Geish al-Islam in Gaza, and that it would include within its ranks organisations such as al-Tawheed, al-Jihad, al-Waad, al-Tahrir Party and the Islamist Front.
Salafi headquarters
According to some Sinai tribal leaders, the armed groups that have been recently waging attacks on Arish come from a small village called al-Qariaa, which is in fact the headquarters of Jihadi Salafism in North Sinai. These armed groups, which hide in the mountains, show open support to al-Qaeda and adopt its black flags. They even claimed responsibility for the dozens of attacks since the 25 January Revolution on the gas pipeline through Sinai that delivers gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan.
A recent statement by al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula called for turning Sinai into an Islamic emirate, and questioned the role played by the Egyptian armed forces to combat drug smuggling in Sinai, touching as well on the injustice to which Sinai Bedouin are subjected. The statement ended with the phrase: ‘enough ignorance’, which is a statement used by members of the Takfir wal-Hijra Islamist organisation in Sinai ever since the 1980s to promote the Islamisation of Sinai.
Sinai coalition
Until the Mubarak regime and its Ministry of Interior, known for its hostility towards Islamists, were toppled, the Takfir wal-Hijra Organisation used to work in the dark. Near the end of the Mubarak regime, a conciliation was finding its way between the State and the Sinai Bedouin, which resulted in the release of several members of Salafi and Jihadi groups. Following that, when the military took charge directly after the revolution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces released all other Salafi detainees in an attempt to ease matters in Sinai after the collapse of security there.
The Sinai Islamists took advantage of the worsening security situation and began to impose their hegemony by force of arms. They announced their agenda, which is based on their own vision of an Islamic model. In a show of force they performed paramilitary parades that marched through the streets of the border towns of Sheikh Zuwayid and Rafah, with al-Qaeda flags held high and showing off modern weapons, all the while chanting Islamic al-Qaeda style slogans.
Triangle of evil
Over the last six years, ever since the foundation of al-Qaeda’s Egyptian base, Salafi ideology has invaded Sinai and was able to join forces with Gaza’s Geish al-Islam, which is allied to Hamas. Geish al-Islam in fact aims at imposing its hegemony on Gaza and expanding in Sinai. Hamas allows Geish al-Islam a free hand in Sinai so as to avoid the conflict of interest related to Gaza. 
Simultaneously, the human trafficking between Africa and Asia, which takes Sinai as a safe passage point, is booming, as are weapon and drug smuggling. 
Over the last five years Sinai has been turning into a new Afghani model, home to an alliance of the triangle of evil: traffickers of weapons, drugs and humans, amidst an exchange of interest with the Salafi armed organisations. We face an extremely perilous scenario where the tribal belt is allying with the Salafi Jihadi and non-Jihadi movements, as well as al-Qaeda. All of these are supported by the Palestinian Jihadi movements and connected with the so-called triangle of evil, trying to win over Sinai. Surprisingly, though, the State seems not to notice.
WATANI International
7 October 2012
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