What is happening in Sinai?

Emad Gad , Friday 12 Aug 2011

Reports of hundreds of Al-Qaeda fighters entering Egypt in Sinai should prick the ears of those who wish to defend the January revolution

The attack on a police station in Al-Arish by an extremist fundamentalist group who follow Al-Qaeda’s ideology, though it is not clear if they are linked to the organisation or not, raised many questions about Egypt’s national security in general and in the Sinai Peninsula especially. Any discussion of the Sinai Peninsula brings to mind the Camp David Accords and the restrictions they imposed on the presence of the Egyptian military in three zones in Sinai, mostly Zone C near the border with Israel that also includes our border with the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian military experts assert that Egypt is very capable of defending its borders despite these restrictions, and boots on the ground are no longer necessary to defend one’s territories in light of advanced military capabilities. But I believe that the presence of the Egyptian army in this zone especially could stamp out any armed groups there, guaranteeing the security of the country and the people in the Sinai Peninsula.

It is not a matter of a direct military threat by Israel as much as it is Egypt’s ability to impose complete control over its territories in that region. The size of the Sinai Peninsula is two and a half times the area of Palestine as a protectorate, and if the small population there gives rise to fantasies of resolving the problem of the Palestinian people, diminished military presence in Zone B and complete absence in Zone C feeds Israel’s ambitions.

It is no secret that Israel military experts propose plans and schemes calling for resolving the Palestinian problem through a solution in the Sinai Peninsula. General Giora Eland has proposed a comprehensive plan to settle the Palestinian issue in the Sinai Peninsula by expanding the border of the Gaza Strip to the south along Sinai and relocating the Palestinians there. In return, some economic aide would be allowed to pass through.

Several Israelis are also talking about Egypt’s inability to impose control over Sinai in a manner which harms Israel’s security, and requires Tel Aviv to find a way to put an end to this threat to its national security. Some there suggest taking over control of part of Sinai and establishing a buffer zone to protect Israel’s security.

Many mistakes were committed during the writing of the Camp David Accords and many more have occurred in the past few months since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. How did 3,000 armed fundamentalists enter Egypt, some of whom are members of Al-Qaeda, arriving fresh from fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan? They fought alongside Bin Laden within the ranks of Al-Qaeda and were allowed to enter Egypt, and the information was even reported as front page news in national newspapers.

Who allowed this and who relayed the news to the government media, which usually would not publish any such reports without verifying their authenticity from highly-placed sources? Since this information was published, it means that editors at national newspapers have passed on the message, and we should now ponder the message they wanted or were told to relay to the Egyptian people. Who is behind the return of these fighters and who gave them permission to enter? These are many questions that remain without clear or convincing answers in an era of political and security flux.

Revolutionary Egypt is in grave danger and there are Arab and non-Arab regional forces who want to see Egypt’s revolution fail and the bodies of the revolutionaries pile on the streets. The aim is to direct a message to neighbouring populations not to oppose their rulers: ‘While most rulers are authoritarian and others dictators, with them you are safe, have surplus funds, live a cushy life, especially in the Gulf countries, so why demand democracy imported from the “infidel” West?’

What is even more worrisome is that there are local partners who despise Egypt’s revolution, partners working to abort the revolution even though it paved the way for some of them to take power, while it threatens the stature, interests and gains of others. They have all united to slaughter the revolution of the youth and people of Egypt, as witnessed by the scenes in the squares of Cairo and other governorates, the absence of security, the proliferation of weapons, as well as rhetoric undermining the revolution. What occurred in Al-Arish is just one scene of a multi-part play.

Nonetheless, I believe Egyptians are capable of defending their territories and defeating terrorism once again, despite the flood of armed fighters, the collaboration of officials, and plots by brothers, rivals, competitors and enemies.

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