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Egypt political forces hail soldiers's return; Opposition raises concerns

Islamist parties and non-Islamist opposition agree: the release of 7 kidnapped soldiers in Sinai represents 'victory' for Egypt's military/security establishment; Liberals reject deals with 'militants'

Ahram Online , Wednesday 22 May 2013
Security
Soldiers who were kidnapped last week sit before a news conference by President Mohamed Mursi after their release, in Cairo, May 22, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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The release on Wednesday of seven soldiers kidnapped in the Sinai Peninsula last week was hailed as a victory for Egypt's military/security apparatus by parties and figures across the country's political spectrum.

"The successful release of the kidnapped personnel confirms our confidence in the presidency, the Egyptian military establishment and security forces," Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), declared on Wednesday.

FJP deputy head Essam El-Erian, for his part, stated: "If all Egyptian political forces put their differences aside and supported President Morsi's leadership, Egypt would develop at the speed of light."

Younes Makhioun, meanwhile, head of the Salafist Nour Party, which has been at odds with the presidency in recent months, likewise said that domestic political differences "must be put aside" whenever Egypt is faced with national security crises.

Tarek El-Zomor, head of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Construction and Development Party, said the prisoners' release without bloodshed "should be seen as a victory for all of Egypt and its magnificent revolution."

The affair, El-Zomor added, also highlighted the need to address longstanding grievances of the people of Sinai, so as to end the decades-long neglect and marginalisation of the region by Egypt's central government.

Liberal, leftist reactions

Egypt's liberal and leftist parties were no less jubilant over the soldiers' release.

Ayman Abou El-Ela, head of parliamentary affairs for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, commended the military's efforts in releasing the kidnapped soldiers, asserting that "happiness has returned to Egypt and the families of the abductees."

He added that this sentiment should be shared by all residents of Sinai, which, he said, must be purged of all militant Islamist groups before the region can be properly developed.

Spokesperson for the Egyptian Popular Current movement Heba Yassin, for her part, also expressed satisfaction in Wednesday's hostage release, but went on to stress that serious efforts must still be exerted to find the crime's perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Likewise, former MP and member of the opposition National Salvation Front umbrella group Amr Hamzawy asserted that the development represented "a successful test of crisis management that should be commended."

Nevertheless, Hamzawy noted the many grievances articulated by Sinai residents over the years, primarily as a result of the security apparatus' heavy-handed approach to the local population and the ongoing destruction of the Gaza-Egypt tunnel network – Gaza's only economic lifeline since 2006.

"There must be equilibrium between military force and respect for human life in both Sinai and the Gaza Strip," said the former MP.

Magdy Hamdan, a leading member of the National Salvation Front, said he was concerned a deal might have been struck between the army and the abductors.

Spokesman for the Free Egyptians party Shehab Wagih said the release of the security personnel "will not enhance the reputation of President Morsi, nor that of the army."

"I demand that Morsi reveal his plans for developing Sinai. Otherwise, people will question his intentions," he added.

Hamas reacts

Regional leaders, meanwhile, including Ismail Haniyeh, head of Gaza's Hamas-led government, congratulated the Egyptian people and leadership on the soldier's release, which he described as "proof" of Egypt's ability to protect its sovereignty.

Recent months have seen numerous unsubstantiated rumours about Hamas' alleged involvement in militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula.

Following almost one week in captivity, the kidnapped soldiers – held hostage by unidentified militants in the Sinai Peninsula – were finally released early Wednesday. Since their kidnapping last Thursday, the region had been on edge, with stepped-up military deployments to the restive peninsula.

The incident represented the first time for Egyptian security personnel to have been abducted by Sinai-based militants.

The restive Egypt-Gaza border region has witnessed an upswing in violence over the course of the past few months, with frequent clashes between security forces and militants.

Many Sinai residents seek revenge on security forces after years of heavy-handed security policies under Mubarak-era interior minister Habib El-Adly, who many had accused of failing to respect human rights and local traditions.

The kidnappings were thought to have been carried out in response to the alleged torture by police of an Islamist militant arrested in the summer of 2011 who allegedly belonged to Sinai-based militant group Tawhid wal-Jihad.  

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