"There are 1,300 tunnels still operating and no one believes they were shut
Sinai-based activist Islam Quweidar
Despite state assurances of progress, Sinai residents say security still
Some Sinai residents believe that old-new government policies are ultimately
to blame for the current situation in the Peninsula
Ahmed Eleiba, Sunday 11 Nov 2012
The security situation in Sinai is in a constant state of flux. Recently,
there was an assault on a police patrol, in an ambush by armed attackers,
which left three police officers dead. There was also a failed attempt to
assassinate a police inspector. This implies that attackers are now
targeting the police as well as the army. Several sources in Sinai said it
appears to be a vendetta?
The ministers of defence and interior went to Sinai last week and saw beefed
up military security guarding state institutions, including police stations,
governorate offices and courts. After a brief ten-minute meeting, the
Minister of Defence left the governorate and the Minister of Interior
announced that Security Chief Major General Ahmed Bakr was fired and his
deputy Major General Sameeh Bashadi was to replace him. Meanwhile, units at
road blocks were issued upgraded automatic weapons.
The military deployment that accompanied the ministers' visit was evident.
The Minister of Defence made a brief speech to a group of soldiers saying:
"We will not compromise on protecting this valuable part of our country",
and urged the military to cooperate with their police counterparts.
Military spokesman Staff Brigadier General Ahmed Mohamed Ali denied that
Sinai was declared a military zone or that a curfew was in place. Ali said
that security conditions in North Sinai have now returned to normal and the
police are working at full capacity with the armed forces to ensure the
state’s security and sovereignty over the territory. He added that the visit
by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Military
Production, as well as the Minister of Defence last week is clear evidence
Sinai-based activist Islam Quweidar rejected the impression promoted by the
military spokesman that conditions are stable, saying that there is no
evidence that this is true.
"Sinai is lost," he said. "The troubles are now beyond what we would
describe as aggravated. There is no security and the situation is much more
dangerous than one can imagine. If security agencies and the presidency
continue to deal with Sinai in this way, then a second revolution will occur
in Sinai. Armed groups have reached out beyond the regions they
traditionally operate in such as Al-Arish and Sheikh Zoweid, and their
training ground in Gabal Al-Halal. They have now penetrated other regions.
"The simple citizen in Sinai is terrified of deadly attacks on a police
patrol; how have security agencies not chased the culprits down, or
barricaded any town or village they go to? They kidnap tribal leaders, local
magistrates, and fire at random in downtown streets."
Quweidar is suspicious of information disseminated by agencies and the state
to reassure society. "We met with the governor on Sunday with a number of
activists," he said. "The governor told me that the tunnels [between Gaza
and Egypt] were completely sealed, which annoyed me and irritated others at
the meeting. I responded that I was an eye witness to a deal between a young
Palestinian and someone in charge of a tunnel. They reached an agreement for
passage in return for a sum of money. There are 1,300 tunnels still
operating and no one believes they were shut down."
Activists refuse to accept Camp David as the excuse why the state is
ignoring Sinai, as stated by Sinai-based activist Mossaad Abu Fagr. Instead,
he believes that a constitution that is for all Egyptians, and not just
based on the unilateral vision of a group ruling Egypt, will be better for
"Before cancelling Camp David, Egypt needs to deploy 250,000 soldiers in
Sinai. Can we do that?" asked Abu Fagr. “President Mohamed Morsi’s policies
are equivalent to assassinating the state. Instead, he should have drawn up
a political vision for Sinai."
“Some LE49 billion was earmarked for Sinai, collected from inside and
outside Egypt, under Hosni Mubarak, but it drowned in the desert,” Abu Fagr
Major General Ahmed Ali Bilal, a military expert, also refused to believe
all is well or that it is a superficial crisis. “On the contrary, the crisis
is being exported outside Sinai; it is obvious that the Nasr City cell [a
group the security forces claim is preparing for terrorist attacks in Sinai]
is part of this extension,” Bilal said.
Militant cell members are currently being interrogated, confirmed Bilal,
adding that then CIA director David Petraeus visited Cairo last week,
implying that there is increasing cooperation between the US and Egypt in
regards to security.
Meanwhile, Islamist organisations who have renounced violence years ago, as
well as their leaders who have recently been released from prisons, have
refused to put everyone in the same light, refraining from hurling
accusations at their counterparts in Sinai.
Tarek Al-Zomor, a leading figure in Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, told a German news
agency that he does not believe jihad groups will make a comeback because
Egypt’s people revolution has created new conditions and practices that
exclude armed Islamist violence.
Al-Zomor admitted that there are Salafist and jihadist groups in Sinai, but
noted that they had announced they are committed to the laws of the land and
will not rise up against Morsi even if they disagree with him. Any one of
them who commits a crime or carries arms should be put on trial, he opined.
A security expert who is involved in investigations of these groups told
Ahram Online it is important to make a distinction between the role of
groups that renounced violence, and the new groups. He noted that the latter
is unlike those who emerged during the era of Al-Jihad and Al-Gamaa
The older leaders, including Al-Zomor, thought they could play a new role on
renouncing violence with the newer groups, but these dialogues failed. This
implies that confrontation must then come from the state, and the notion of
dialogue through those who still champion the ideologies of the 1980s and
1990s is unrealistic.
Bilal believes that events in Sinai are the result of security policies
under previous regimes, but what is worse is that these policies continue
today. Activists in Sinai agree, saying that police detectives and former
senior security officers have returned to their posts and continue to
practice these same policies.