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Sinai Struggles after July 3, 2013

Immediately following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, Islamists formed a sit-in in el-Arish that threatened Sisi—Egypt’s defense minister at the time—with a new stage in the Sinai insurgency. On July 5, 2013, Salafi jihadist groups held a massive armed rally in Shaykh Zuwaid, calling for the Muslim Brotherhood (who likely have no presence in the border zone) to join them in their armed struggle. Attending representatives of the brotherhood, however, could not condone the violent language of the jihadists, and withdrew after less than ten minutes. This was the last joint event the two Islamist groups held. Time will tell if the brotherhood’s ability to adapt in the face of change, as discussed in chapter 5 by Dalia Fahmy, will facilitate its survival in an increasingly bloody era. It is important to note that at this time, violent clashes between the jihadists and the army have not yet occurred, and the political distrust and hysteria have above all else surfaced in response to the removal of the democratically elected president Morsi and the return of the police state. Police were expelled from the border area on January 28, 2011, and have yet to return, with all subsequent attempts to rebuild the Rafah police station ending in failure. The military demolished entire residential areas of the region in order to create a buffer zone between Sinai and Gaza in late 2014, acting against the “threat of militant Islam”—a security discourse akin to that discussed in chapter 6 by Mai Mogib Mosad.

The 2011 revolution did not resolve the deep tension and distrust between the police and the people in the border region, and the groups did little to reconcile, compensate, or even apologize for past violence and rights violations. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood, which North Sinai militants regarded as being too soft in its implementation of Sharia, was on the receiving end of a brutal crackdown. In this context, what could the stigmatized people of the border region in general, and the hardened militant groups in particular, expect in their dealings with the new government? Thus, conditions in Sinai deteriorated from bad to worse through the self-fulfilling terrorism-security narrative pursued by both parties. By September 2013, the brutal open warfare had devolved so much that locals longed for the days of the “merciful” Habib al-Adli, Mubarak’s longtime minister of interior who imposed the very abuses on Sinai residents that fomented their armed revolt in January 2011. The people of North Sinai might not have imagined a scenario worse than that created by Adli, but the winter of 2013 turned out to be an especially painful one. Residents suddenly faced forced displacement, aerial bombardment, tanks and artillery, the uprooting of orchards and crops, and the bulldozing of houses. Communications were cut, ambulances were stopped, and schools and hospitals were sabotaged. Dozens of women and children were killed in the harsh repression—a collective punishment without parallel in the entire history of the Sinai Peninsula. Much as Shereen Abouelnaga and Belal Fadl and Maissaa Almustafa argue in their respective chapters, the root causes of discontent in Sinai not only remain, but are also being exacerbated. Interestingly, it is the military in the region that faces a precarious position in service of the government—not the police, as discussed in Genidy and Salam’s chapter.

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