Is Sinai exhausting the army or besieging the MB?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Fighting in the Sinai occurs almost on a weekly basis and military activity is carried out on a semi-daily basis. The result may alter the formula in governing the Egyptian capital, and it may also alter it in Gaza. Sinai's war is between the Egyptian armed forces and the Egyptian armed opposition which appears like a new player or term.

The Egyptian state, army, political regime and the parties and institutions which support it, are currently in a state of war over survival as the struggle over governance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the current regime, produced by the June 30 protests, continues.

Sinai is the battlefield seemingly chosen by Brotherhood supporters to topple the government led by defense minister and commander of the armed forces Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - the government which they consider a military coup. The process of toppling president Mohammad Mursi was accompanied by some Brotherhood leaders' public statements that the Sinai will be the graveyard of those who carried out the coup. These statements were also accompanied with extremist parties' announcements vowing to carry out jihad.

One of the factors that led to losing control over the Sinai during the era of Hosni Mubarak is that he overlooked Hamas' smuggling operations and the construction of tunnels.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The clear aim of transferring the battle to the Sinai, which is very far from Cairo, is to exhaust the army institution, topple it and/or to impose a political solution that brings back the Brotherhood to government. Jihadi groups' statements and the Brotherhood leaders' statements terrorized some Western governments which voiced their opposition of toppling the Brotherhood's governance and their fear that waves of terrorism and violence may not only target Egypt but the West as well.

But the Sinai may be the graveyard of extremist groups. It may be what puts an end to the Brotherhood's dream of regaining governance. This is because ever since the army launched its military campaign in Sinai, it has expressed determination to control that area that has always been a haven for illegal immigrants and smugglers of weapons and drugs. One may ask why the Egyptian army is currently succeeding today in what it failed to achieve over a period of six years. The first reason was Sisi's decision to purge this vast desert, no matter the price, as he mobilized the biggest number of troops the Sinai Peninsula has ever witnessed since its war of liberation in 1973.

Overlooking something?

One of the factors that led to losing control over the Sinai during the era of Hosni Mubarak is that he overlooked Hamas' smuggling operations and the digging of tunnels. This was part of Mubarak's policy in dealing with Hamas and in pressuring Israel. It's no secret that Mubarak was lenient when it came to letting Gaza fall under Hamas' control. Some say that Mubarak was behind the coup during the period of his dispute with Abu Mazen. This is an opinion that lacks documentation. What's certain however is that Egypt possesses great influence and power that enables it to bring Hamas' governance of Gaza to an end. But the extremist party in the Hamas movement appears to have taken its zealous support of the Brotherhood too far during the last year and underestimated Sisi's character, particularly after ousting Mursi.

But Hamas finally saw that Egyptian troops advanced quickly in the Sinai and succeeded in destroying tunnels. As a result it realized that these troops will almost certainly achieve a quick victory, so it's now making efforts to achieve calm. It also stopped criticizing the current government and ordered its leaders not to criticize Sisi and not to call what happened in Egypt a “coup.” It even warned mosque preachers not to criticize Sisi or support the Brotherhood in public. At the same time, Salafi Gazan groups which are considered to be Hamas' worst enemy began to surface.

The Egyptian armed forces are capable of supporting change in Gaza. This terrorizes Hamas because it knows that a huge percentage of the strip's residents are willing to support this change due to the bad economic situation, to the movement's bad management of the strip's social and political affairs and to the ongoing division which was present before Hamas carried out its coup.

Hamas' retreat from supporting the Brotherhood in Egypt, Sisi's adoption of an “iron fist” policy when confronting armed groups in Sinai and the Brotherhood's failure to attain huge support from the Egyptians or from foreign parties are all factors that make the battle of governing Egypt proceed in one path. That path is the Brotherhood's failure to achieve what they threatened: confusing the army and disturbing Egyptian society. It seems that the Brotherhood's only solution is to resort to reconciliation by participating in the next elections and abandoning their demand of restoring what they call “legitimacy.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 17, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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