“It is not unusual to find a couple of civilians decapitated or shot on the roads of Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid,” a North Sinai resident told a reporter of Daily News Egypt, which describes itself as Egypt’s only independent newspaper in English. Beheading is the execution method of choice employed by the terror group “State of Sinai” – a comparatively new jihadist conglomerate affiliated to Islamic State (IS), and responsible for a remorselessly bloody campaign against the Egyptian military over the past two years.
The brutal killings include also civilians whom the terrorists accuse of being “armed forces informers”. For example, in February “State of Sinai” released a video showing the decapitation of eight civilians. Their bodies were later found on North Sinai roads. On April 11 it posted a video featuring both the beheading of an individual, apparently a civilian, and the shooting of a young soldier, Ahmed Fotouh, who had been kidnapped on April 2 in an attack on seven military checkpoints which left 16 armed forces’ personnel dead.
The village of Qarm Al-Qawadis, the scene of a notorious jihadist attack last October which left at least 33 Egyptian servicemen dead, witnessed a new onslaught on April 12. “State of Sinai” claimed to have shot two mortar shells into a military base resulting in the death of six army personnel. In a separate incident on the same day, a car bomb targeted a police station in Al-Arish killing six police officers and wounding twenty. Three days later two more policemen were killed after a bomb explosion targeted a security vehicle in the Masaeed area in Al-Arish.
And so it goes on, ceaselessly, relentlessly.
Egyptian journalist Sliman Gawda is convinced that the terrorists “are funded, supported, and even trained by outside sources.” He is referring to Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood supporters, some of whom have based themselves in Gaza city. “As the terrorists become more daring,” he writes, “so should the Egyptian army be more ferocious in its war on terror. Yes, we are paying a heavy price for our war against terror. But we must show the Muslim Brotherhood, once and for all, that we will hunt down each of its individuals until we feel safe.”
After the October attack, which produced the biggest loss of life in decades for Egypt’s army, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi imposed a three-month state of emergency in the north and centre of the Sinai peninsula, and closed Egypt’s Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. Declaring that the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had become one of the region’s main exporters of terror, Egypt mounted a major offensive aimed at overcoming the threat and re-establishing effective control. A major step was to establish a security buffer zone along Egypt’s shared border with Gaza in order to prevent terrorists from using the vast network of tunnels to launch attacks inside Egypt, or smuggle goods and weapons out. The Egyptian army’s security crackdown included imposing a curfew on the region, demolishing hundreds of houses along the border and transferring thousands of people to new locations.
In a sense Egypt’s war on terrorism began with the overthrow in 2013 of former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government that he headed. Their year in office had demonstrated all too clearly to the majority of the Egyptian population what living under an extreme Islamist administration meant, and by and large they rejected it. Even so, the Muslim Brotherhood retained the support of a fair minority of Egyptians, and al-Sisi inherited an inherently unstable situation. In his view, the restoration of stability required the total rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood and all its works, and given the revolutionary situation, their suppression. Hence the trial of Morsi, the clampdown on leading Brotherhood figures and their supporters, and the jailing of journalists employed by the TV station Al-Jazeera based in Qatar, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Sisi’s fight against terrorism has gone further. It has ventured into an area shunned by most political figures in the West, fearful of being tarred with that most unacceptable of brushes for the politically correct – Islamophobia.
On January 1, 2015, al-Sisi visited Cairo’s Al-Azhar University where he addressed a gathering of Egypt’s religious leadership. He said some rather surprising things.
Ideas held most sacred by religious clerics, he asserted, were causing the entire Islamic nation to be a source of anxiety to the rest of the world. “That thinking (I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”), that corpus of texts and ideas that we have held sacred over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. Is it possible that 1.6 billion Muslims should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants – that is 7 billion – so that they themselves may live? Impossible! We are in need of a religious revolution. You imams are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting for your next move…because the Islamic nation is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands.”
His initiative has not fallen on deaf ears. On April 2 Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawki Allam, spoke not only to the Egyptian people, but to Muslims worldwide.
“There is no true religion that does not regard the sanctity of human life as one of its highest values, and Islam is no exception. Indeed, Allah made this unequivocal in the Qur’an. He emphasized the gravity of the universal prohibition against murder, stating that when a person takes even one life, ‘it is as if he has killed all mankind’.”
Referring to the videos showing decapitations in Sinai and Libya, the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, and other horrific acts by jihadists, he said: “These thugs are invoking religious texts to justify their inhumane crimes.” This, he asserted,”is a flagrant misreading of both the letter and spirit of the Islamic tradition… These terrorists are not Muslim activists, but criminals who have been fed a mistaken interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah, the teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed.
“Beyond a military war on terror, we are in an ideological battle – one we must win – against radical extremists who use terror as a weapon to achieve their goals of disrupting global stability and the conscience of the peaceful world. Egypt is in dire need of the world’s support as it fights against the terrorist cancer. In this battle, Egypt is defending not only itself, but also humanity against the encroaching danger of extremism.”
Food for thought.