Egypt presidency faces hard choices over kidnapped soldiers: Analysts
Four days after kidnapping of seven soldiers in Egypt's restless Sinai Peninsula, President Morsi appears to be mulling a number of unpalatable options, analysts say
Nada Hussein Rashwan, Ahram Online, Sunday 19 May 2013
An Egyptian border policeman shouts shout at the closed Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza strip to protest the abduction of their colleagues last Thursday, in Rafah, Egypt, Sunday, May 19, 2013. (Photo: AP)
As the state continues to mull ways of securing the release of seven Egyptian soldiers kidnapped in the Sinai Peninsula last Thursday, all possible options appear to bear serious consequences, say local analysts.
"The presidency seems to have toughened its stance since Thursday and has now announced its refusal to negotiate with the kidnappers," Gamal Abdel-Gawad, former head of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online.
"However," he added, "any step the presidency takes now would come at a cost."
On Sunday, President Mohamed Morsi announced that "all options" remained available to the state for securing the release of the kidnapped soldiers, stressing that Egypt would "not be blackmailed" by the kidnapped soldiers' captors.
He went on to deny the existence of "any differences" between Egyptian state apparatuses regarding how to deal with the crisis, noting the "complete coordination" currently underway between the ministries of interior and defence.
Early Thursday, seven Egyptian security officers were kidnapped, including one member of the armed forces, four port security officers and two state security officers.
Abdel-Gawad does not rule out the possibility of disagreements within decision-making circles over how to respond to the crisis.
"The fact that the presidency has not taken any concrete steps since Thursday might reflect a degree of confusion over differing approaches to the crisis on the part of the presidency and security officials," Abdel-Gawad said.
He added: "The president prefers not to launch a military operation against the kidnappers, which could cost him the sympathy of hard-line Islamist supporters."
Since the kidnapping on Thursday, Morsi has held emergency meetings with Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and General Intelligence chief Raafat Shehata.
However, said Abdel-Gawad, the president "will likely face criticism for giving in to lawlessness and chaos in Sinai in the event that he fails to take firm action."
Morsi's Sunday meeting with political figures, he added, "might not only signal that he is looking for a second opinion, but also that he may be looking for someone with whom to share responsibility."
On Saturday, North Sinai Governor Abdel-Fatah Harhour told state news agency MENA that he had received a telephone call from the president in which the latter told him that the crisis had to be solved "peacefully, with restraint and avoidance of bloodshed."
Harhour also said he was "following up" with a group of influential Sinai-based personalities in an attempt to "persuade" the kidnappers to release the soldiers unilaterally.
Following Thursday's kidnapping, a security source revealed that the perpetrators had demanded the release of Sinai-based militants detained for almost two years.
The militants were convicted of killing five security officers and one civilian during a string of attacks in June/July 2011 on an Al-Arish city police station and a North Sinai branch of the Bank of Alexandria. A total of 25 individuals were charged in the case.
"If the president had agreed to offer amnesty to the convicted militants, this would have deepened the existing crisis of confidence with the police apparatus, since the convicts were sentenced for killing police officers," Abdel-Gawad said.
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 accuse of failing to respect human rights and tribal traditions.
On Friday, Egyptian police closed the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip to protest the kidnapping of their colleagues. On Sunday, police did the same at the Ouga border crossing with Israel.
Last Thursday's kidnapping represents the first time for Egyptian security personnel to be abducted by Sinai-based militants.