Look no further
Muslim Brotherhood leaders accuse Israel, writes Amani Maged
The appalling terrorist attack against Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai is significant not only because of its ramifications with respect to national security but also because it is President Mohamed Mursi's first real test in handling the extremely delicate questions regarding Israel and Palestine.
The incident also throws into relief the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood with the Palestinians, on the one hand, and with Israel on the other. It is not surprising, therefore, that no sooner did the news of the incident break and even before investigations began, Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen levelled the finger of suspicion against Israel. Mossad had a hand in this crime and it is part of a drive to undermine the Egyptian revolution since its outset, they said. Some Muslim Brotherhood officials stated that the Israeli intelligence agency had instructed Israeli citizens in the Sinai to leave the area several days ago.
The accusations were simultaneously intended to imply that Hamas, which is organically connected to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, was not involved in the incident and to support statements to this effect by Palestinian leaders, such as the dismissed prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders also said that it was important to review the articles of the Camp David accord between Egypt and the Zionist entity. The accord does not permit for a large enough presence of Egyptian forces to maintain security in the Sinai and safeguard Egyptian borders.
The Muslim Brotherhood believes that the attack in the Sinai was an indirect attack against the Egyptian revolution and President Mursi in particular. "Every time the Egyptian revolution overcomes another hurdle, its adversaries get more aggressive and more ruthless," a Muslim Brotherhood source said. He suggested that it was no coincidence that this attack should occur just after the newly elected president formed his government and was preparing to address the problems that weighed so heavily on the Egyptian people.
The Muslim Brotherhood's reaction could probably have been anticipated. It exonerated the people of Gaza and attributed the crime to, as one statement put it, "groups that advocate ruin and destruction, that collude in the fabrication of crises, and that foment corruption on earth with the aim of undermining the reformist project adopted by the president and his government." Because of its timing, Muslim Brotherhood officials suspect that the attack aimed not only at creating a security crisis for Egypt on the border area but also to aggravate domestic problems in general at this time so as to prove the failure of the new government which was only sworn into office less than a week ago. They indicated that another purpose was to drive a wedge between the Egyptian government and people and the Palestinian government and people of Gaza.
The Muslim Brotherhood's relationship with Israel is particularly fraught following Mursi's election as president. To Israel, this represents the gravest change in the strategic environment as the consequence of the democratic revolutions that are sweeping the Arab world. Israel fears losing the strategic advantages it enjoyed through its relationship with the former Egyptian regime. Decision-makers in Israel have little doubt that Egyptian national security policy in this new era will rest on principles that are opposite to those of the Mubarak era. Therefore, many observers believe that the Israeli government is unlikely to submit to the new situation in Egypt and, indeed, is actively working to keep as much as they can of the strategic advantages they had during the former era.
Although President Mursi has stressed that Egypt under his leadership will abide by all its international agreements, including the Camp David accords, Tel Aviv appears to be operating on the presumption that the changes that have taken place inside Egypt will, for all practical purposes, ultimately transform the accord into little more than a ceasefire agreement.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and its political wing, the Construction and Development Party, echoed the Muslim Brotherhood's allegations against Mossad. The party's spokesman Tareq Al-Zomor said that the Israeli intelligence agency "is managing the events of violence in the Sinai with the aim of altering the presence of Israeli forces along the Egyptian border."
But not all share this opinion. Many Egyptian political forces have asserted that Mursi's recent amnesty of a number of Jihadist Islamists will lead to more crimes against Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. Moreover, many wonder whether some of those recently released Jihadists were involved in last week's Sinai attack. Certainly, the suspicion is heightened by a statement relayed by an Egyptian website, issued by Egyptian Jihad leader Sheikh Nabil Naim, the right arm of the first-in-command of Al-Qaeda, Ayman El-Zawahri, claiming that elements from the ultra radical Takfir wal-Hijra organisation were responsible for the attack.
If, indeed, this is the case, it suggests that this group cares little for President Mursi's Islamist credentials and that it still subscribes to the belief that Egyptian society is a heretical one and that it is therefore legitimate to kill its members. While Takfir wal-Hijra cells exist in a number of Egyptian governorates, they are more heavily concentrated in the Sinai where the general lack of security and their arms and large financial resources give them considerable manoeuvrability.
Originally part of the Jihad under the leadership of the dentist known as Khaled Mosaad, its members affiliated themselves with the "Shawqiyin", or followers of Sheikh Shawqi, following Mosaad's death in the wake of the notorious Taba incident. Sheikh Shawqi founded the group that was initially called Al-Takfir wal-Hijra but which changed its name to Al-Qaeda wal-Jihad (The Base and the Holy War) after some disagreement among the members of the original name. According to Sheikh Nabil Naim, these people were among those released from prison following the 25 January Revolution, which is to say before Mursi became president. He went on to describe them as a group of "fools" whose thinking was superficial and who were hated by the people of the Sinai.
Many observers believe that the Takfir wal-Hijra groups are connected to like-minded groups in Gaza and that Mossad has infiltrated all these groups. They add that the groups are heavily armed because they are intensively involved in illicit weapons trafficking.
Clearly, President Mursi faces numerous challenges in the wake of the attack on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. Perhaps the foremost test will be whether he can strike a balance between two opposites -- the relationship with Israel and the relationship with the Palestinians -- while simultaneously contending with the tasks of handling the terrorist groups and safeguarding Egyptian territorial sovereignty.