Sinai bombing shows Egypt will be mired in a prolonged fight

The suicide bomb attack on Egyptian troops in Sinai, as assessed by Abdel Bari Atway (Rai Al Youm), Mohammed Salah (Al Hayat) and Ali Salem (Asharq Al Awsat)

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is shut after the suicide car bomb attack on Egyptian troops in Sinai. Photo: Said Khatib / AFP
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Egypt’s Sinai desert has become the battlefield for a bloody confrontation between the army and radical Islamist groups. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the online publication Rai Al Youm, noted that hardly a week goes by without casualties caused by one or more acts of aggression.

“But last Friday’s suicide attack against a military checkpoint in Sinai was different from all the other attacks,” he wrote.

“It heralds a real threat – not only to the Egyptian military, but to Israeli military targets and patrols too, and to the Israeli gas lines that both countries have recently agreed to establish.”

The Egyptian army has been engaged in a relentless war against terrorist groups in Sinai for over a year. However, the sustained escalation in the frequency and violence of the attacks in recent weeks indicates that Egypt’s quest to eliminate terrorism on its territory has not been successful. In fact, rather than reduce its involvement, it has widened its scope, Atwan noted.

“It is imperative that the government in Cairo confronts these terrorist offensives steadfastly and firmly, but military solutions alone wouldn’t lead to the desired outcomes. They must be coupled with political solutions and national dialogue,” he added.

“The Egyptian-Israeli rapprochement, which culminated recently with a 20-year agreement to import gas from Tel Aviv, added to Egypt’s silence about Israeli aggression in Gaza. It offers reasons that radical groups can exploit when they seek to destabilise Egypt and drag it into a bloody war of depletion,” he added.

Speaking on the same issue, the Egyptian columnist Mohammed Salah wrote in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat that Egypt’s war on terrorists is not too different from the US-led war on ISIL.

“But whereas the Americans attack ISIL from afar, the enemies of Egypt live within the country, in its cities and towns,” he wrote.

“Egyptian terrorists are widespread and deeply intertwined within communities. They hide in plain sight, they dress the same as everyone else and they speak the same language. They can’t be restricted to a specific location. They hit and run back to their hiding places.”

Egypt is suffering from the burden of protecting against infiltrations and attacks. Meanwhile, there are US organisations, and even officials in the US administration, that continue to offer support to the defunct Muslim Brotherhood, the writer observed.

For their part, Muslim Brotherhood elements in Egypt don’t miss a chance to use the terrorist incidents to undermine president Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s authority. For the radical group, the man was the harbinger of their demise and vengeance against him is a religious duty that takes precedence over everything else.

“The perpetrators of terrorism are no mystery. The incidents of Sinai have not ended. Egypt’s war on terrorism is fraught with difficulty. It promises to be prolonged and multifaceted,” he concluded.

Official reactions to Friday’s attack were different too, said the Egyptian columnist Ali Salem in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

In an unprecedented move in such cases, President El Sisi ordered the Rafah passage between Egypt and Gaza shut indefinitely. This can only be interpreted as confirmation on the Egyptian part that the attack was somehow related to that border and that parties on the other side are implicated in the incident, one way or another.

“The party on the other side is none other than Hamas, the controllers of Gaza,” he noted.

“They are the sole authority in the strip and they govern every aspect of life in it, including its criminal gangs.

“Political diplomacy – or, in some instances, political foolishness – compel us to restrain ourselves from pointing the finger directly at Palestinian elements.

“The Palestinian cause is our core cause, but what about the lives of Egyptian citizens and our very existence? Shouldn’t they, too, be our core issue and our only cause as Egyptians?” he asked.

Hamas is a Brotherhood affiliate. Their allegiance is to the Brotherhood and no one else. They will never forget that the Egyptians were the ones to wipe out their mother cell, he wrote in conclusion.

Translated by Racha Makarem.

RMakarem@thenational.ae