Egyptian government has tried hard to combat a deadly insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula


In the last three years, the Egyptian government has tried hard to combat a deadly insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, resulting in a mounting death toll for both insurgents and Egyptian soldiers.

The insurgency, which is being led by a local Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate known as Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province), has largely remained hidden from the public eye, as President Abdel Fattah al-government Sisi’s does not permit journalists or outside observers to visit the sparsely populated North Sinai. Additionally, the conflict has been kept away from popular tourist destinations on the peninsula’s southern tip, such as Sharm El Sheikh, Dalab, and Taba.

Almost every month, a brief statement is issued claiming that IS insurgents killed several soldiers, typically via improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or gun battles, or that soldiers killed a number of insurgents.

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Due to the fact that journalists are not permitted to visit the area, these statements contain few details about the ongoing conflict in North Sinai, which has displaced approximately 100,000 residents and left over 400,000 in need of humanitarian assistance.

A roadside bomb exploded last Thursday in New Rafah, in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, near the Gaza Strip, killing eight members of Egypt’s security forces, including an officer, and injuring six more.

On August 1, an army spokesman stated that security forces had killed 89 suspected insurgents in a series of operations in North Sinai, but did not specify the dates of the operations. Additionally, the army destroyed 404 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), four explosive belts, and 13 tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Egyptian territory. Additionally, the spokesman stated that the army sustained eight casualties.

Sinai Province insurgents claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner in October 2015, killing all 224 passengers and crew. Russian officials complained at the time that Egyptian airport security procedures were insufficient and banned flights to Egyptian Red Sea resorts.

Flights between Russia and Sinai resumed last Monday, nearly six years after they were suspended.

Sinai Province insurgents carried out modern Egypt’s deadliest attack in 2017, when 311 worshippers were killed in a gun and bomb attack at the mosque in Bir al-Abd during Friday prayers by armed men carrying ISIS flags.

Egypt has been engaged in a protracted conflict with armed groups in northern Sinai for years. The vast, rugged peninsula has long been a hotbed of illicit activity, including the smuggling of arms, drugs, and supplies to the Gaza Strip, circumventing Israel and Egypt’s blockades.

Recently, the Egyptian government announced that the army had established a buffer zone in northern Sinai and destroyed tunnels that were allegedly used by smugglers to transport weapons and fighters between Egypt and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Sinai’s violence erupted following the 2013 military coup that deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, amidst widespread protests against his brief rule. Insurgents are primarily targeting Egyptian security forces, minority Christians, and individuals suspected of colluding with the police and military.

It is worth noting that even prior to the insurgency, the region’s primarily Bedouin tribes were politically and economically marginalised and treated as second-class citizens by the central government in Cairo, which forbids Bedouins from serving in the army or holding government positions. Sinai residents frequently lack access to education, health care, and safe drinking water. This could be because Egyptians accuse Bedouins of cooperating with Israel during Israel’s occupation of Sinai following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. North Sinai has been in a state of emergency for the majority of the time since 2013.

The Egyptian army’s scorched earth policy and heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics exacerbate Bedouin frustration and desperation, prompting some to join the WSinsurgents. According to reports, soldiers use collective and indiscriminate punishment by targeting and arresting members of suspected insurgents’ families.

Human Rights Watch reported in May 2019 that, based on interviews with hundreds of Sinai residents, the “Egyptian military and police have conducted systematic and widespread arbitrary arrests—including of children—enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings, collective punishment, and forced evictions” throughout the Sinai operations.

Human Rights Watch charged Egypt’s armed forces with violating international human rights law and committing war crimes between 2013 and 2020 by demolishing over 12,300 residential and commercial structures and destroying 6,000 hectares of farmland in North Sinai.

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Although the frequency of attacks and clashes between security forces and insurgents has decreased in recent months, this does not mean that North Sinai’s “hidden war” is over. As Alison McManus, senior fellow at the Centre for Global Policy, puts it, “certainly militant capacity has deteriorated, but not to the point of securing the province for its residents’ safety or economic development.”

Egypt’s government should make a concerted effort to win over Bedouin tribes by ending discrimination against them and beginning to improve the region’s infrastructure and provision of essential services.

As Rand Corporation researchers David Thaler and Yousef Addelfatah point out in a Small Wars Journal article: “To make progress against WS and other militant groups operating on the peninsula, Egypt’s government could prioritise providing services to its citizens and mending ties with them. By better aligning the tribes with Cairo and utilising them as the government’s eyes and ears in the region, the Egyptian military could gain a significant advantage—one without which they are unlikely to succeed.”

source: ANI


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