Violence breeds violence, and Sinai is no exception

Violence breeds violence, and Sinai is no exception
Comment: Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's "war on terrorism" in Sinai is failing, but he doesn't seem aware or even care, says Khalil al-Anani.
4 min read
14 Apr, 2015
Sisi appears oblivious to the real issues in Sinai [AFP]

In September 2013, a semi-official Egyptian newspaper published the large front-page headline: "Egypt to be declared 'terrorism-free' in a few days".

It has been a year and a half since, and yet terrorism continues to strike across the country.

The story was part of a PR campaign paving the way for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for president. Since then, army statements abound on Egypt's "victory over terrorism" and Sinai being "purged of terrorist and takfiri strongholds".

Then new attacks take place.

It is an irony that with every bombing in Sinai, military commanders get plum news jobs, as happened this week when Mohammad Farag al-Shahat, a major general and commander of the second field army, was promoted to chief of military intelligence and reconnaissance operations. Nasser al-Asi, also a major general, got Shahat's old job.

Were Egypt a normal country, Shahat and Asi, as well as other commanders responsible for military operations in Sinai, would have been dismissed and held accountable for their failures.

     Sisi only knows how to deal with Sinai through security and a tight grip, the same way he deals with other issues.

Sisi only knows how to deal with Sinai through security and a tight grip, the same way he deals with other issues. Thus, security failure would always be the logical result of the continuous military operations.

What does he think when his jets, bomb the houses of Egyptian civilians during anti-terrorism missions, as happened three days ago in al-Zahir, south of Sheikh Zuweid, where 11 members of the same family were killed, including a pregnant woman and children.

What does he think then his tanks fire on Bedouin farms and kill livestock, create new grievances, prompting victims or their families to join terrorist groups for revenge?

Is he aware that by displacing hundreds of families from their homes in Rafah to create a "security zone", he is creating new generations who will see violence and retaliation as the only methods to deal with the state.

Does he know that the people of Sinai are tired of false promises made by the state and its officials about their region. I doubt he is aware that they know much-publicised development plans are mere promises that are never kept.

Is he aware that the people of Sinai reject violence and terrorism as much as they reject the state-imposed marginalisation and deprivation they have endured for four decades.

Egypt's president does not appear or wish to know that the solution to the crisis in Sinai does not concern security only, but rather it must begin by admitting to the utter failure of the security strategy adopted there.

Sisi is following the steps of his predecessors in dealing with Sinai as a threat, not as the victim of systematic official negligence.

Sinai's problems are as much social, economic and political as they are about security.

     Sinai's problems are as much social, economic and political as they are about security.

Sisi does not ask himself why the frequency and intensity of terrorist operations increased dramatically since the army started its operations there in September 2013, and even more since he came to power in June 2014.

Nor does he ask himself why the Wilayat Sinai group became more brutal and took over entire villages.

Sisi did not visit the people of Sinai to offer condolences for their losses resulting from the indiscriminate shelling, nor did he even send a representative to do so.

The army did not express regret over the children and women who lost their lives. It was as if the victims were not Egyptian citizens worth care and attention, as if they deserved the state's punishment.

Egypt's "war on terror", particularly in Sinai, will not succeed without a change in the strategy and approach adopted to deal with the accumulated problems there.

Wilayat Sinai will not be defeated without the real participation of Sinai's civil society. Most residents of Sinai are against the group, but they are suffering between terrorism and the state that does not care about them nor seeks to solve their problems.

Fighting terrorism in Sinai and other places require Sisi to know and admit that violence and indiscriminate killing are not a solution, and that without admitting the state's responsibility for the situation in Sinai, terrorism will not stop, and terrorists will not be defeated.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.