State of Emergency Returns to Sinai PeninsulaOctober 28, 2014 in Egypt
28 October- On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdul Fatah El Sisi declared a three month state of emergency in north and central Sinai Peninsula. The state of emergency which began on Saturday at 0300 GMT will last for three months. A curfew will be enforced from 1700 to 0500. In addition, the Egyptian government has closed the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. Sisi’s presidential decree stated, “The army and police will take all necessary measures to tackle the dangers of terrorism and its financing, to preserve the security of the region… and protect the lives of citizens.”
The decision came after a militant fighter rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a security checkpoint northwest of El-Arish in North Sinai on Friday, killing at least 30 soldiers and leaving 29 others injured. One senior army official and five officers were among the wounded. Earlier on Friday, gunmen shot and killed an officer and wounded two soldiers at a checkpoint south of El-Arish. On Saturday, the body of a soldier who disappeared after Friday’s attack was found riddled with bullets. Immediately following the incidents, Sisi called for three days of national morning and called for a meeting of the National Defence Council.
The attacks are the worst the country has experienced against security forces since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. In August 2013, 25 soldiers were killed in the Sinai when gunmen opened fire at two buses transporting troops. In July 2014, 22 border guards were killed in the western desert near the border with Libya. Later in July, militants conducted two bombings in the Sinai, killing 17 police officers. Each of these attacks has been claimed by Ansar Beit al Maqdis, a Sinai-based terror group that as targeted security forces in the Sinai Peninsula and Nile Valley Egypt since Morsi’s removal from office.
The latest bombings followed the sentencing of seven members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis to death on Tuesday for conducting deadly attacks on the army. Sisi said Friday’s attack was carried out with “external support” in order to “break the will of the Egyptian people and army.” A spokesman for Ansar Beit al Maqdis has recently stated that they have been receiving assistance from ISIS in the form of advice and guidance, although he underscored that there was no transfer of weapons or personnel.
Sisi has stated that the militants posed an “existential threat” to Egypt, and has authorised a new law that expands military control over state facilities, including power plants, main roads and bridges for the next two years. The law calls for state infrastructure to be defined as “military facilities” and allows the army to work with police to protect these sites, and to arrest and present for trial anyone suspected of launching attacks on those sights. Trials would be held in a military court.
Critics caution that the law allows the army to return to the streets, and will result in the return of military trials for civilians, one of the major reasons for the Egyptian uprising in 2011. Activists believe the law is too broad, and may be reinterpreted to cover universities, where clashes between and protesters have become a regular occurrence. The increased capacity for military power has been perceived as an attempt to quell dissidents against the Sisi administration. A large number of anti-military activists have been arrested in October, and at least 17 newspapers across the nation have refrained from publishing criticism of the army or the state.
Yet Sisi’s presidential spokesman, Alaa Youssef, said the decree is a limited and proportional response aimed at tackling terrorism, not protesters. The Egyptian foreign ministry has also contacted ambassadors of several nations to ask for additional security support and to “and supply information for Egypt that meets its security needs.” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called for the international community to provide support in order to “carry out a strong and decisive” operation. The EU, US and UK have condemned the two attacks and pledged to support Egypt.
The Egyptian government has taken extensive ground and air efforts to eradicate the terrorist threat in the Sinai Peninsula. Despite the number of targeted killings, arrests, tunnel closures, and confiscations of militant held homes and weapons the militant threat does not appear to be diminishing. The military launched fresh air strikes Saturday in northern Sinai, killing eight suspected militants.