The Sinai Attack: Sending a Message
By: Houssam Kanafani
Published Tuesday, August 7, 2012
The assault on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai is not unrelated to events that the country has witnessed in the last few months. The Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) control of the presidency has directly impacted Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, especially its ruling party.
Egyptian president-elect Mohammed Mursi has demonstrated receptiveness to the Palestinian Hamas movement. He even invited its leadership to the presidential palace - the first time in the movement’s history.
Undoubtedly, observers in Egypt, Israel, and the United States were not very keen about such a high-level reception. So something had to be done to reaffirm the boundaries of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas, which the US considers a terrorist organization.
The Sinai attack was a path towards achieving this goal. Regardless of the direct perpetrators, those behind the curtains wished to send several messages to Egypt’s new rulers and Gaza’s older ones.
The only way to make the message clear was to display a show of strength that would provoke Egyptians to stand against the MB leadership’s strategy for alleviating the siege imposed on Gaza.
Public opinion can be roused by spilling the blood of Egyptian soldiers. This was a way to return the ball to the court of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the “avenger of blood” entitled to exact retribution on the killers.
According to most Egyptian officials and media, the killers were “Palestinian from the Gaza Strip infiltrating Sinai.” This version of the story spread quickly through the streets.
The discourse had racist undertones, against “Palestinian terrorists,” despite numerous rational voices that apportioned blame based on who would gain from such a move, and who would lose. In this there are two winners, Israel and SCAF. The losers are Hamas and the Egyptian MB.
Those who planned, implemented, and enabled the operation were able to strike “two birds with one stone.”
The Gaza Strip was closed off, just like it was during the time of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The siege is now expected to intensify following the indefinite closure of the Rafah and Karm Abu-Salem border crossings.
It is interesting that the attack came hours after Israel warned tourists in Sinai of a “potential terrorist attack.” The news should have reached Egyptian security. Either they did not treat it seriously enough, or kept it under wraps to use for internal political ends that will become apparent in the coming days.
The blow first hit the Egyptian presidency and its efforts to play a role in external politics. Now it seems that this arena will remain firmly in SCAF's hands, starting with Palestine.
The president will have to make do with working on internal issues and navigating between the boundaries drawn by SCAF. It seems, for now, changing presidents will not alter the political framework devised by the officers.
It was also a blow to Hamas at the exact time when the “terrorist” accusation would stick, following its incomprehensible decision to release a militant Salafi leader, who had been incarcerated in Gaza for the past two years.
The release was part of a deal, whose parameters are not yet clear. But it tainted Hamas with the stain of implicit cooperation with extremist movements. This made it easier to accuse Gaza's rulers of participating in the Sinai attack.
"Israel cooked, Egypt ate, and Gaza has to wash the dishes," goes the Strip’s new joke about the Sinai attack.
Houssam Kanafani is Arab world and international desk editor at Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.