While commemorating the 71st anniversary of Police Day late last month, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced that a massive celebration would be held in the governorate of North Sinai to mark the end of terrorism in the area.
“On 25 January, we should not forget the sacrifices of the martyrs and those injured in the confrontation against terrorism,” said Al-Sisi. “If the terrorists had been able to overcome us, they would have slaughtered us, but we were able to vanquish them.”
“Now that we have defeated terrorism, we will organise a memorable celebration in major North Sinai cities, including Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid… to declare the end of terror.”
On 15 January, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli visited North Sinai, the first such trip in eight years. Accompanied by several ministers, he visited North Sinai’s capital Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid.
“The fact that we are here in North Sinai and are able to move freely and safely in squares and on the main roads shows that Sinai is now free of terrorist groups,” Madbouli said, adding that stability had cost the lives of thousands of martyrs from the army and security forces. Minister of Justice Omar Marwan, whose brother — a police officer — was killed in North Sinai in May 2015, was among the ministers accompanying Madbouli.
MP Aida Al-Siwarka, deputy chairman of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that 3,200 people have been killed and more than 12,000 injured in terrorist attacks in Sinai since 2013. They include civilians, soldiers, police personnel, and judges. Al-Siwarka added that to ensure the terrorists do not return North Sinai needs economic development and reconstruction.
Several projects have already been completed, including the rehabilitation of Arish’s international airport, the construction of Arish university and hospital, and the building of a major desalination station, said Al-Siwarka.
“Now we have won the war against terrorist groups in Sinai we are engaged in a battle to turn North Sinai into a major investment hub,” said Madbouli. To which end LE195 billion is being spent on 312 development projects and incentives are being offered to attract investors to North Sinai.
North Sinai MP Sami Kamel recalled how, in February 2018, the army and police launched Comprehensive Operation Sinai. After a protracted campaign, the operation freed North Sinai’s so-called triangle of terror — Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid — from the grip of terrorists and takfiris loyal to Islamic State-affiliate Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.
“The wave of terrorism erupted in North Sinai after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in July 2013 and for a period terrorists gained the upper hand in Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid, killing civilians and security personnel and sabotaging infrastructure and oil pipelines,” said Kamel, bringing life in the area to a halt.
“Then the army and police launched Comprehensive Operation Sinai, targeting terrorists until they were obliterated from the map of North Sinai.”
Kamel argued that among the factors that helped the state in its war against terrorism in North Sinai was the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Libya, the drying up of funding for terrorist groups, and the Egyptian army’s securing of borders with Libya and Gaza.
The last confrontation between the military and terrorist groups in North Sinai was in August 2022 when the army killed terrorist leader Hamza Al-Zamli during a confrontation in Gelbana village. Al-Zamli and his accomplices had infiltrated the village and tried in vain to plant explosives at its entrances and use village residents as human shields. Al-Zamli, a Palestinian from Gaza, is believed to be the main architect of the terrorist attack on North Sinai’s Al-Rawda Mosque which killed 235 worshippers in November 2017.
A joint study — “The cost of extremism and terrorism in Egypt throughout three decades” — compiled by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies, a Cairo-based independent think tank, estimates that the war against terrorism cost Egypt LE385 billion between 2011 and 2016, and estimated losses to the tourism sector of $207.5 billion between 2001 and 2018.
“The results of the study will be disseminated among the public in order to raise awareness about the dangers of terrorism and the price the country has paid in economic, political, social, and cultural terms,” says Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Qabbaj.
“While extremism and radical ideologies are the first step on the road to terrorism, other factors cannot be ignored, and they include the impacts of poverty and social marginalisation which create a fertile ground for radicalism and terrorism. The study clearly illustrates how terrorist groups recruit from poor communities.”
According to ECSS’s Manager Khaled Okasha, “the study offers a deep understanding of how terrorist groups operate and the recruitment techniques they use.”
Political analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawwad adds that the study shows that people who join terrorist groups do so for a mix of financial and ideological reasons.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly