In August 2012, after a vicious attack on Egyptian soldiers in Rafah, I wrote an article about state policy towards Sinai, questioning mainly the presence of an actual strategy for the development of Sinai and for countering the growing threat of terrorism in such a strategic spot.
In May 2013, after seven Egyptian soldiers were kidnapped from Northern Sinai and released after a series of negotiations, I wrote another article criticising the minimal involvement of the state in the development of Sinai and the utter failure of state institutions in providing the people with sufficient information when it comes to the region.
Ironically, a little bit more than a year later I find myself once again writing about Sinai and hoping that this time someone might actually react.
The ongoing military confrontations between the state and various terrorist organisations in Sinai seem to be far from over. Despite the news that we read on a weekly - if not daily - basis about the number of terrorists killed or arrested by the army, the terrorist presence in Sinai remains active, and their attacks are becoming more violent and frequent.
According to a recent study, Egypt witnessed 55 terrorist explosions since July 2013 when Sisi declared war on terrorism after the people authorised him to do so on 26 July. Out of these 55 explosions, 26 occurred in Sinai alone amounting to 47 percent of the explosions that took place in Egypt during that time.
Following the last terrorist attack in Sinai in late October, which claimed the lives of more than 30 Egyptian soldiers, the state declared more security measures to be implemented in Sinai, including declaring a state of emergency, implementing a curfew and closing the Rafah crossing. President El-Sisi stated that the battle against terrorists in Sinai is a long one; he also pointed to a “conspiracy” that aims to break the Egyptian nation and its army, and to foreign hands that support the realisation of this conspiracy.
El-Sisi was indeed right when he said that the battle in Sinai is a long one, a battle that will not be concluded in a matter of weeks or a few months. But what Sisi deliberately ignored mentioning or simply forgot to bring up is the recurrent failure of the Egyptian state in dealing with Sinai.
The situation we are now witnessing in Sinai is not only the result of a conspiracy or of foreign intervention, it is also the result of failing to arrive to and implement a development strategy in Sinai, it is the result of the state’s failure to understand the cultural complexities and the ethnic nature of Sinai. What is going on in Sinai today is the direct result of how the state looked at Sinai and still looks at it in a strict security based context, one that denies all other dimensions whether cultural, religious, ethnic or economic.
I am not about to criticise the military performance of the army in Sinai or to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the security strategy put to rid Sinai of the terrorism threat that it faces. But what I intend to do is to clarify that saving Sinai from the threat that it faces begins with dealing with Sinai as a region, one with cultural, ethnic and geographical complexities, not as a terrorism threat or a mere national security issue. Saving Sinai requires a lot more than the strict security measures that the state believes to be the sole answer to the growing dangers in Sinai.
The truth that must be realised is how minimal the state’s involvement in Sinai is. The only state institutions present in Sinai are security ones, but a true inclusive state infrastructure remains absent until today.
Another truth is how neglected the people of Sinai are, not only in the sense of equal access to opportunities, but also in the sense of true integration and citizenship rights. The Bedouins of Sinai are a neglected faction of the Egyptian population. How many Bedouins are in the police force or the military corps or the judiciary? Even the governor of Northern and Southern Sinai is never chosen from among the real population of the region, it is a position that is always reserved for military men.
The infrastructure that the state cared to develop over the years in Sinai is one that cares only for the tourism industry without paying much attention to any other aspects of life in Sinai. You will find in Sinai five star compounds and world-class golf courses, but you will not find a bridge or a railroad that connects it to the rest of the country.
Countering the threat of terrorism in Sinai begins with recognising the mistakes that kept taking place one year after the other. It is true that Sinai is slowly turning into a hub for terrorism, but terrorists did not create this reality as much as they used the reality created by the recurrent negligence of the state.
The answer to Sinai’s dilemma is not in deploying more tanks or implementing more strict security measures, the answer begins with recognising Sinai as a region and recognising its people as Egyptian citizens with equal rights and equal access to public opportunities.