FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to Lose a ‘War on Terror’

The Sinai Peninsula has moved from the margins of Egyptian body politic to the uncontested center, as Egypt’s strong man – President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi – finds himself greatly undercut by the rise of an insurgency that seems to be growing stronger with time.

Another series of deadly and coordinated attacks, on January 29, shattered the Egyptian army’s confidence, pushing it further into a deadly course of a war that can only be won by political sagacity, not bigger guns.

The latest attack was a blow to a short-lived sense of gratification felt by the regime that militancy in Sinai had been waning, thanks to a decisive military response that lasted for months. When militants carried out a multistage attack on an Egyptian military checkpoint in Sinai, on October 24, killing 31 and wounding many, the Egyptian government and media lines were most predictable. They blamed ‘foreigners’ for what was essentially a homegrown security and political crisis.

Instead of reexamining Egypt’s entire approach to the poor region of North Sinai, the army moved to further isolate Gaza, which has been under a very strict Israeli-Egyptian siege since 2007.

What has taken place in Sinai since last October was predictably shattering. It was seen by some as ethnic cleansing in the name of fighting terror. Thousands of families were being forced to evacuate their homes to watch them being detonated in the middle of the night, and resentment grew as a consequence.

And with resentment comes defiance. A Sinai resident, Abu Musallam summed up his people’s attitude towards government violence: “They bomb the house; we build a hut. They burn the hut; we build another hut. They kill; we give birth.”

Yet, despite a media blackout in Sinai, the scene of devastation created by the military campaign was becoming palpable. “Using bulldozers and dynamite” the army has demolished as many as 800 houses and displaced up to 10,000, the New York Times reported. Sisi spokesman referred to the demolished neighborhoods as terrorist “hotbeds”. The long-discussed plan for a “buffer zone” between Egypt and Gaza was carried out, and to a more devastating degree than expected.

The Jerusalem Post quoted the Egyptian publication, Al-Yom a-Sab’a reporting that “the security forces will work to clear the area of underground tunnels leading to Gaza and it will also level any buildings and structures that could be used to conceal smuggling activity.”

But no Gaza connection was ever found. The logic of a Gaza connection was bewildering to begin with. Attacks of this nature are more likely to worsen Gaza’s plight and tighten the siege, since the tunnels serve as a major lifeline for the besieged Palestinians. If the attacks carry a political message, it would be one that serves the interest of Gaza’s enemies, Israel and rival Palestinian factions, for example, not Hamas.

But no matter, Sisi, who rarely paused to consider Sinai’s extreme poverty and near-total negligence by Cairo, was quick to point the finger. Then, he called on Egyptians to “be aware of what is being hatched against us. All that is happening to us is known to us and we expected it and talked about it before July 3,” he said, referring to the day the military overthrew Mohammed Morsi.

In a televised speech, he blamed “foreign hands” that are “trying to break Egypt’s back,” vowing to fight extremism in a long-term campaign. Considering the simmering anger and sorrow felt by Egyptians, the attacks were an opportunity to acquire a political mandate that would allow him to carry whatever military policy that suited his interests in Sinai, starting with a buffer zone with Gaza.

While awaiting the bodies of the dead soldiers in Almaza military airport in Cairo, Sisi spoke of a ‘great war’ that his army is fighting in the Sinai. “These violent incidents are a reaction to our efforts to combat terrorism. The toll during the last few months has been very high and every day there are scores of terrorists who are killed and hundreds of them have already been liquidated.”

Without much monitoring in Sinai, and with occasional horror stories leaking out of the hermetically sealed desert of 60,000 square kilometers, and the admission of ‘scores’ killed ‘everyday,’ Sinai is reeling in a vicious cycle.

Resentment of the government in Sinai goes back many years, but it has peaked since the ousting of President Morsi. True, his one year in power also witnessed much violence, but not at the same level as today’s.

Since the January 2011 revolution, Egypt was ruled by four different regimes: The supreme military council, the administration of Mohammed Morsi, a transitional government led by Adli Mansour, and finally the return of the military to civilian clothes under Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. None have managed to control the violence in Sinai.

Sisi, however, insists on using the violence, including the most recent attacks that struck three different cities at once – Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah – for limited political gain. He blamed the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) once more without providing much evidence. The MB, in turn, released a short statement blaming government neglect and brutality in Sinai for the violence, which promises to increase.

Following the October killings, I wrote: “If the intentions are to truly curb attacks in Sinai, knee-jerk military solutions will backfire.” Others too sounded the alarm that the security solution will not work.

What should have been common sense – Sinai’s problems are, after all complex and protracted – was brushed aside in the rush for war. The folly of the military action in the last few months may be registering internationally, at last, but certainly not locally.

That denial is felt through much of the Egyptian media. A top military expert, Salamah Jawhari declared on television that the “Sinai terrorists are clinically dead” and the proof is the well-coordinated attacks of January 29.  Per his logic, the attacks, which targeted three main cities all at once were ‘scattered’, thus the ‘clinical death’ of the militants. He blamed Qatar and Turkey for supporting the militants of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which, as of November vowed allegiance to the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS), announcing their new name: ‘The Sinai Province’.

The massive comeback of Sinai’s militants and the change of tactics indicate that the war in Sinai is heading to a stage unseen since the revolution, in fact since the rise of militancy in Sinai starting with the deadly bombings of October 2004, followed by the attack on tourists in April 2005, at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in the same year, and on Dahab in 2006. The militants are much more emboldened, angry and organized.

The audacity of the militants seems consistent with the sense of despair felt by the tribes of Sinai, who are caught in a devastating politically-motivated ‘war on terror’.

The question remains: how long will it be before Cairo understands that violence cannot resolve what are fundamentality political and socio-economic problems? This is as true in Cairo, as it is in Arish.

Ramzy Baroud – www.ramzybaroud.net – is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

More articles by:

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail