Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Responding to the Sinai attack

Anger is running high following the Sinai mosque attack. But the army alone should be the one to act, writes Hany Ghoraba

For the deadliest terrorist attack on Egyptian soil to take place in Egypt after four years of successful campaigns against the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates, including  Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, is a sign that the war is not over and that the security apparatus and counter-terrorism authorities still have a long way to go before declaring North Sinai terrorism-free.

At least 305 were killed and 128 Egyptians injured in an unprecedented massacre that took place during Friday prayers on 24 November when a bomb exploded in Al-Rawda Mosque in North Sinai followed by gunshots fired from multiple terrorists killing most of the attendees in the mosque, including 27 children. The sheer vile evil of the attack is indescribable. There are no words in the English language or any other language to describe the demonic nature of these terrorists. President Al-Sisi, in short speech afterwards, vowed brutal retaliation against the terrorists and their supporters. From that moment, the Egyptian air forces backed by special forces are pounding terrorist hideouts and have managed to kill many of them in an ongoing operation.

As shocking as the attack was, the situation in North Sinai usually witnesses such operations whenever a court trial of some members of terrorist groups takes place. It is highly unlikely to be a coincidence that a trial for an Islamic State-affiliated cell was taking place the next day.


BREEDING GROUND FOR TERRORISM: Salafi preachers are still at work in Sinai mosques, inciting against the state and minorities, radicalising a sizeable portion of the population who became ready recruits for the likes of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. In February 2017, it was estimated that 120 families found themselves forced to depart their homes in the Sinai city of Al-Arish in fear of their lives as some Christians were killed in the governorate already. Moreover, Sufi shrines and places of worship were already subject to attack and vandalism. 

The attacked mosque belongs to Al-Gariria Sufist order which was celebrating along with most Egyptians the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed. The Sufi doctrine mosque belonged to Al-Sawarka Bedouin tribe, which is among the most influential and supportive of the Egyptian state. They have been threatened and targeted by Islamic State-affiliates Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis for years. 

The attack on innocent worshippers in Beir Al-Abd Mosque was bound to happen after Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups exhausted their desperate and insane attempts to defeat the Middle East’s most powerful army on its home turf. Accordingly, they shifted their vile activities towards unarmed innocent worshippers on one of the holiest days in Egypt. The attack may be prelude to a wave of similar attacks in places of worship. The Islamic State group and the Muslim Brotherhood have attacked places of worship before, such as churches, leaving hundreds of innocent casualties throughout recent years. Targeting mosques is an alteration of their vile tactics, mimicking those used in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, in an attempt to cause a wave of anger against the government regarding its capacity to protect its citizens.

However, attacking a mosque that belonging to a large tribe such as Al-Sawarka will spark a different sort of reaction contrary to what terrorists are used to. As tribal laws of honour and vendetta are common in the North Sinai region, Al-Sawarka along with other allied tribes under the name the “Union of Sinai Tribes” have vowed to cleanse Sinai of every last takfiri terrorist in retaliation for the hideous terrorist attack on their families and tribesmen in the mosque. They issued a strong-worded statement 24 November, mentioning that the union is organising a major sweeping campaign in coordination with the Egyptian army to eradicate all Islamic State terrorists from Al-Barth region in North Sinai. Furthermore, the union statement mentioned that they will utilise their own tribal code in dealing with terrorists — there will be no prison or trials, but complete eradication, which is an alarming turn of events.

The fear remains that the situation in Sinai could be prelude to similar attacks on mosques and churches in Egypt, and accordingly pre-emptive strikes are key to eliminating threats before they materialise into massacres such as that seen at the Sinai mosque. But the tribe leaders must understand the importance of restraining themselves and letting the army finish the job, as an escalating tribal war of vendettas is the last thing the nation needs in such delicate times.

The writer is a political analyst, writer and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.

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