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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Army must restore Sinai security in three months, Egypt's Sisi says

Friday's Mosque attack signalled that armed Islamists have expanded their target to Muslims with different beliefs and rituals

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi gives a televised statement on the attack in North Sinai, in Cairo, Egypt on November 24, 2017 in this still taken from video. Reuters
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi gives a televised statement on the attack in North Sinai, in Cairo, Egypt on November 24, 2017 in this still taken from video. Reuters

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El Sisi told the country’s military and interior ministry forces they were on deadline to restore security to Sinai in the wake of the mosque massacre in the village of Al Rawdah located in the troubled northern sector of the peninsula.

“It is your responsibility to secure and stabilise Sinai within the next three months,” said Mr Sisi, addressing his new chief of staff Gen Mohammed Farid Hegazi and other leaders at a ceremony commemorating the birthday of Prophet Mohammed at Al Azhar University.

Mr Sisi repeated the phrase, “use all brute force necessary”, and he pledged a comprehensive economic improvement programme for Sinai to be deployed in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s attack — which has claimed the lives of 309 worshippers.

“We will pursue development as though there was no war,” said the president, who promised to build a new city at Bir El Abd, just kilometres away from the site of the deadliest terror attack on civilians in the history of modern Egypt.

The president’s remarks followed the end of the official period of mourning on Tuesday and a pledge by acting prime minister Mostafa Madbouly to develop four new cities in North Sinai — from where security forces have reportedly flushed out ISIL fighters who have destabilised the area for four years.

However, ISIL’s Egypt affiliate is believed to have carried out the attack on the Sufi-affiliated mosque.

Since 2013, when Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, former president, was ousted by the military in a popularly supported coup, extremist groups in the country have mostly targeted security forces and Coptic Christians.

But last Friday's attack signalled that armed Islamists have expanded their target to Muslims with different beliefs and rituals.

Now the government’s vengeance against the Sinai terrorists is well under way.

Security forces killed three militants and arrested five others in a crackdown in central Sinai on Tuesday, according to army spokesman Tamer Al Refaei.

Meanwhile, the interior ministry announced its forces killed 11 militants and arrested another six after a shoot-out with police during a raid in Ismailia Governorate.

Egyptian officials have been anxious to quell fears that the anti-ISIL campaign is connected to widespread rumours that Cairo might co-operate with the aspirations voiced by some Israeli officials to re-purpose the area for Palestinian resettlement.

The specific plans for Egyptian development in the North Sinai for its own citizens followed a November 9 call by Israel’s social equality minister Gila Gamilel to locate a Palestinian state between her country and Egypt.

“If it becomes clear that there is no alternative but to establish an actual Palestinian state, then this would be a regional problem, not just for Israel,” said Ms Gamilel in an interview with the Israeli pro-settler website Arutz Sheva. “Accordingly, it is appropriate that parts of the Arab countries, such as the Sinai Peninsula, should be considered.”

Although senior Israeli officials said Ms Gamliel’s statement does not reflect their government’s position, her proposal has fed popular beliefs that Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Israel are working together to destabilise the Sinai.

“The residents of the Sinai Peninsula are a fundamental part of Egypt and they are co-operating with army and police forces to achieve peace and stability,” said Ali Abdul Aal, Egypt’s parliament speaker. “The state is making sure that Sinai’s inhabitants remain there and that they are afforded the necessary protection against militant threats.”

But the suspicion that Egypt is subject to multiple conspiracies was on display in the Nile Delta governorate of Dakahlia on Monday as schoolchildren “re-enacted” the Al Rawdah mosque massacre with a politicised twist.

Wearing the costume of masked terrorists, students at the Yahya Al Adgham School in Mit Ghamr carried the flags of Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Israel before role playing the assault on worshippers.

“The students' simulation of the Al Rawdah incident was done in good faith,” said the school’s director Iman Al Samri, who since has been put on administrative leave.

Governorate officials condemned the incident as “entrenching scenes of violence and terrorism in the hearts of children”, but influential Egyptian adults have vented similar sentiments.

After the Al Rawdah massacre, Hany Shaker, head of Egypt’s Musicians Syndicate, posted an eyebrow-raising meme on his Instagram account.

The image showed the bloodied sanctuaries of the North Sinai mosque and a Coptic Church in Cairo with another image of religious Jews celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem.

“They [ISIL] killed sons of Friday and they killed sons of Sunday but those of Saturday remain safe and secure,” Mr Shaker commented.