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Asking the right questions on Sinai security

We still don’t know who arms and funds the militant groups operating in Sinai, nor do we know their motives

Dr. Fahmy Howeidy

Published: Updated:

Confusion shrouds last week’s deadly car bomb attack in Sinai. Ten soldiers were killed and around 37 others were injured in the attack near Arish. The incident’s details imply that an organizational error facilitated the crime. What I heard is that these soldiers were on their way back to their parents after they performed their duties in Sinai. Other soldiers arrived the night before to replace them. Those who know details of the attack said the error had something to do with the latter’s arrival to the military camp. Extremist groups learnt that troops arrived so they figured out that the buses which transported them to the camp will transport other soldiers to Cairo to spend their vacation. These groups thus prepared their ambush and carried out their deadly attack at sunrise once the buses appeared on the highway.

This is why many are saying that there wasn’t enough caution as the soldiers leaving to Cairo should not have been on the highway at sunrise. Caution, amidst the country’s current situation, calls for their transport in the dark during the curfew that lasts until 6 a.m. as terrorist groups hide during this time out of fear of getting caught.

Stirring confusion

I don’t know how accurate this information is but circulating it is an example of the leaks that stir confusion. This is what raised so many questions about Sinai in general as we don’t know the identity and size of terrorist groups deployed there. Israeli daily Haartez said there were 15 Jihadist groups while frequent information says there are only three groups which are Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Salafist Jihadiat and Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen. We also don’t know who arms them and who funds them, and we still don’t understand why these groups halted their activity against Israel and began to carry out operations inside Egypt after Mohammad Mursi was ousted at the beginning of July. The assassination attempt against interior minister Mohammad Ibrahim was a sign the such groups have shifted targets. Mysteriousness shrouds the purpose of this change. In addition to that, there is speculation over the relationship between Sinai’s circumstances and Israel’s security measures and Gaza’s future.

We don’t know what the truth is and this contributes to creating further confusion. This is why I voiced hope that a committee would be assigned to investigate what’s going on there

Dr. Fahmy Howeidy

I discussed this issue with an expert on Sinai affairs. He said the key to understand what’s going on lies in the importance of investigating the reasons behind the tension in Sinai. He thinks it’s normal that the current priority is to end terrorist operations and eliminating groups carrying out such operations. He also said that many ignore the environment in which these groups move and how this environment is fraught with resentment and indignation. According to him, the tension emerged in 2005, 2006 and 2007, that is during the period that followed Taba’s explosions. Back then, security forces vented their anger against tribes living in that area and treated people there brutally. They also insulted people there and humiliated their youths as many of them were detained and subjected to tortures they’ll never forget. This accumulated anger and produced an urge for vendetta. Terrorist groups also exploited this situation to gain some people’s sympathy.

Sparking anger

What the expert said was confirmed by others who are familiar with Sinai’s affairs. They said some security campaigns which targeted members of terrorist groups were not void of violations as many innocent people were detained and many agricultural lands were razed to the ground on purpose. I also learnt that there’s been lack of caution when conducting some raids against certain men as many innocent people, like neighbors or family members, were harmed during these raids.

I repeat that what I’ve mentioned is part of the confusion regarding what’s happened in Sinai. We don’t know what the truth is and this contributes to creating further confusion. This is why I voiced hope that a committee would be assigned to investigate what’s going on there. This will not only help us understand and put an end to rumors but it will also help us in not leaving the security institution alone in the area. We want Sinai to enjoy its proper status in the country and not turn into a battlefront against some of the country’s sons.

This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Nov. 25, 2013.

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Dr. Fahmy Howeidy has worked in journalism since 1958 for Egypt's al-Ahram Foundation. He is currently the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Al-Ahram newspaper. Previously, Howeidy served as the Managing Editor of Kuwait's Al-Arabi magazine and of Arabia magazine, which is published in London, UK in English. He is now fully dedicated to contributing to Al-Ahram and has a column each Tuesday published in six Arab countries in Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Majalla, and Al-Wafd Newspaper. Howeidy has had seventeen books published, including: The Quran and the Sultan, Awareness Forgery, In Order Not to be A Sedition, Islam in China, Iran from the Inside, Taliban, Establishing Due Rights, and The Crisis of Religious Awareness. Howeidy is a specialist in Arab and Islamic affairs.

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