Sinai Attack Aftermath: More Questions Than Answers
Published Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Cairo - On Tuesday, Egypt will be burying the victims of Sunday’s terrorist attack in Sinai, which took place at a border checkpoint near the Karam Abu-Salem crossing, killing 16 and wounding several others. The Egyptian presidency, the armed forces, and the government vowed that they will respond forcefully to the perpetrators of the attack.
There is much anguish among the Egyptian public in its search for answers, amid conflicting information over the identity of those who killed the soldiers.
While some voices rushed to accuse Hamas of involvement, and called for the annihilation of the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants, some analysts blamed extremist Islamist groups taking refuge in the mountains of Sinai. Others held that there are Israeli hands involved in the attack, perhaps using operatives from Sinai or Palestine.
Observers said that the attack carried several messages, with some seeing it as an attempt to drive a wedge between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, and to sever the alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Others argued that the attack is aimed at undermining the Muslim Brotherhood administration at home and undercutting its involvement abroad. Yet others stressed that the incident in Sinai is an opportunity to revise the Camp David Accords. However, all these interpretations do not invalidate the one truth we know so far, which is that 16 Egyptian soldiers have been killed.
The Egyptian public has reacted with shock since news of the incident first broke, while the presidency, the government, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) tried to prove that they continue to have the upper hand.
President Mohammed Mursi inspected the scene of the incident on Monday, accompanied by Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the armed forces Sami Annan, and Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din.
A few hours after the attack, Egyptian television carried statements by Mursi, in which he said that “the blood of the martyrs of the Sinai attack will not go in vain,” and stressed that the perpetrators and their collaborators will pay a dear price for their crime.
Mursi vowed that “there is no room to appease this treachery and aggression,” and that “everybody will see that the Egyptian military and police forces can get these criminals wherever they are,” adding that “these criminals, these attackers do not belong among us.”
For his part, Yasser Ali, the spokesman for the Egyptian president, issued a presidential decree to honor all those who perished or were wounded in the attack, and for them to be treated like the victims of the January 25 uprising.
Mursi ordered three days of mourning over the deaths and a military funeral for the victims. On Monday, military planes carried the bodies of the fallen soldiers from the hospital they were initially taken to in al-Arish to the Almaza military airport in Cairo, in preparation for the military funeral.
According to the president’s spokesman, the security services are working around the clock to uncover the circumstances of the incident, saying: “All the details surrounding [the attack] will be announced as soon as possible.”
In response to a question about whether the Camp David Accords may be revised to allow additional forces to be deployed in Sinai, the spokesman said, “There are measures to assert Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai, which is indisputable.” This was then echoed by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, who said that any talk about revising the Camp David Accords is premature at present.
A Terrorist Group
Meanwhile, SCAF issued a statement condemning the attack and explaining the circumstances. The statement read: “A terrorist group of 35 people attacked an Egyptian border guard post south of Rafah at the time of maghrib prayers, where 16 soldiers were martyred and 7 injured; three of them were critically wounded and were subsequently hospitalized.”
The statement added that the assailants “commandeered an armored personnel carrier and used it to break through the Egypt-Israel border through the Karam Abu-Salem crossing south of Gaza, where Israeli forces destroyed it.”
The statement also stated that “at the same time of the attack, elements from the Gaza Strip carried out a mortar shell attack on the Karam Abu-Salem border crossing.”
According to SCAF, this exemplifies the threats facing Sinai “which requires us all to be vigilant regarding the schemes and plots targeting Egypt.” Finally, the statement emphasized that “the armed forces will cooperate with Sinai citizens and the interior ministry to restore security and stability as soon as possible.”
Reactions in Cairo
Politically, most parties and groups issued statements condemning the attack against the border post. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party called for “all necessary measures to be taken to address this serious challenge to Egyptian sovereignty, and protect Sinai from all armed groups.”
A statement by the Building and Development Party, which belongs to al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, said that it cannot rule out that the Israeli intelligence services were involved in pushing some elements from Sinai to attack Egyptian troops. Meanwhile, the Salafi al-Nour Party called on the President to close all informal crossings at the Egyptian-Palestinian border, and to facilitate the flow of aid into Gaza through the official crossing.
The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement in which it said, “This crime may have been perpetrated by the Mossad, which has sought to abort the revolution from the beginning.” The statement added that “this is evident from the fact that it [the Mossad] instructed Zionist citizens in Sinai to leave immediately a few days ago.”
“[The attack] also draws our attention to the fact that our troops currently present in Sinai are insufficient to protect it or protect our borders, which requires us to reconsider the terms of the treaty between us and the Zionist entity,” the statement concluded.
But Israel denied the accusations made by the Muslim Brotherhood concerning its involvement in the incident. Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said, “Even the person who says this when he looks at himself in the mirror does not believe the nonsense he is uttering.”
For ordinary people, there was disagreement about the identity of the group that carried out the attack, but most maintained that the victims should be avenged, and that the armed forces should carry out a large-scale operation in Sinai to eliminate terrorist elements.
Some calls went so far as asking for the peace treaty with Israel to be abolished, or at least amended to allow the security services to redeploy in that area.
On the other hand, others criticized the Egyptian intelligence services, especially as there had been earlier reports indicating the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack in Sinai.
Some in the Egyptian street interpreted the incident as a plot to turn the Egyptian presidency against Hamas. Those refused the accusations that Palestinians are behind the attack, and maintained that in analyzing who stands to benefit, Hamas would be the party to sustain the most damage from the incident.
Suleiman al-Sayed, an Egyptian youth, believes that those who carried out the attack are armed groups from Sinai, citing the fact that the last few days had seen incidents where foreign tourists and Egyptian soldiers were abducted.
Ahmed, another youth, believes otherwise. He thinks that the account that says Islamist groups were behind the attack is more plausible, particularly when the majority of these groups have been infiltrated by the Israeli intelligence services, as he said.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.