The Egypt Report: The unholy war for Egypt's holy land

The Egypt Report: The unholy war for Egypt's holy land
Our new weekly round-up of news from Egypt
5 min read
28 November, 2017
The Egypt Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

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Last week was the deadliest in Egypt since August 2013.

militant attack struck al-Rawda Mosque, west of North Sinai's capital, Arish. More than 300 people were killed and at least 100 injured. The attack took place in Bir al-Abd village, home to the Sawarka tribe

In May 2017, the Sawarka declared not only their allegiance to Cairo, but also their participation in the Egyptian army's fight against terrorism in North Sinai. Approximately a quarter of the village's male population perished in the attack.

Villagers told reporters they had been under threat for months. Militants who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group had repeatedly threatened the mosque for hosting Sufi hadra - an unordained spiritual Sufi practice. 

This prompted news outlets to depict the attack as a purely sectarian assault, ignoring possible political implications of the alliance between Sawarka and the Egyptian military. In the process this manufactured a "Sunni-Sufi divide". Not only does this angle have no place in public Egyptian discourse, it is also riddled with problematic factual oversimplifications and inaccuracies.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi responded to the attack in the only way he knows - promising "brute force in the face of extremist takfiri terrorists".

Sisi responded to the attack in the only way he knows - by promising 'brute force in the face of extremist takfiri terrorists'

Under his patronage, Egypt has been engulfed in a deadly war on terror both in the country's Western Desert and in Sinai - a cycle of seemingly endless violence. Sisi later announced that a memorial would be erected in the village for those who lost their lives - a move that left many puzzled.  

Government surrogates and pundits aligned with the regime flooded the nightly talk shows praising the president's crackdown on activists as an essential part of the war on terror. Some went as far as to advocate arming the tribes in Sinai so that they could "defend themselves", while ignoring decades of historical context. 


Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer and the head of The Arab Network for Human Rights Information, announced on Thursday that his client, Islam al-Rifai (known on social media as 5orm or Khorm) was arrested in downtown Cairo on November 16.

Rifai was charged with belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian regime considers a terrorist organisation.

To those who know or follow Rifai on social media, the charge came as a cynical joke. 

His supporters rallied behind the fact that Rifai was far from religiously or socially conservative and often made lewd remarks to scandalise societal norms.

Unlike Mahinour El-Massry or Alaa Abdel Fattah, Rifai was not effectively involved in any protest movements - which prompted his lawyer to claim that his arrest was due to a personal grudge.

Supporters flooded social media with messages under the hashtag #خرم_مش_ارهابي (Khorm is not a terrorist).

Rifai's arrest is the latest display of the regime's heavy-handed approach to securing its hold on power.

First, they came for members and sympathisers of the Muslim Brotherhood under the guise of terrorism. Then, they came for the revolutionary youth claiming that stability could not be achieved unless protests came to an end, implementing a despotic protest law - which passed four years ago on Friday.

Then, they came for LGBT people, branding them debauched and immoral. Now, they have come for the unaffiliated, and it's yet to be seen when or if the Egyptian people can put an end to their persecution.

Rifai's arrest is the latest display of the regime's heavy-handed approach to securing its hold on power

Postcard from Egypt

5orm Tweet

Islam al-Rifai tweets in response to Sisi hosting the International Youth Forum with an image of Sisi with revolutionary youth in 2012 - many of whom are currently in exile [Twitter]

Media meltdown

The blood-soaked week started on a seemingly hopeful note. Talkshow host Ahmed Mousa accompanied Sisi on his visit to Cyprus where he proclaimed that "Egyptians will hear great news in the coming days".

On Wednesday, the attorney-general had 29 people detained on suspicion of Turkish espionage.

The all-too-familiar media meltdown then ensued.

Talking heads railed against what they said was an international Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy against Egypt. They claimed that Turkey had paid these individuals to gather information in hopes that this intelligence would help restore Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power. 

They claimed that Turkey has paid these individuals to gather information in hopes that this intelligence would help restore Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power

Mousa and his colleagues brushed over the charges claiming that those arrested, who remain unnamed, were running a spy operation by advertising and operating illegal cheap international call servers.

This begs the question: how was a supposedly independent journalist able to obtain such highly classified information about national security threats?

Hosts, including Mousa and Amr Adeeb, took the opportunity to put forth the claim that restoring the Muslim Brotherhood's once clumsy hold on the Egyptian presidency was a means by which Turkey could destroy Egypt, not just politically but economically - once again passing the buck on the cause of the country's current economic woes.

Foreign aid

This week, President Sisi accepted a $10 million aid package from Kuwait.

The UK also pledged $2.65 million to fund Egyptian start-ups.

British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson - a social media celebrity of sorts among Egyptians - commented that British tourism to Egypt increased by 74 percent in 2017. 

Egyptians quickly, and humorously, took him to task commenting on the poor state of their tourism industry and the fact that the UK was among countries that suspended flights to Sharm El Sheikh. 

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