KAIRO/ AJRAA. Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a comment on the escalating security situation on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, titled “Mr. President Embrace the People of Sinai!” This article stressed the need to engage in a national dialogue with all political actors in order to avoid further bloodshed and to draft a stable constitution that would represent not only Islamist interests but also give voices to political minorities. However, in the light of ongoing power struggles in Cairo, the escalating security situation in the Sinai has not been considered a priority for national policy making and the government has continued to counter violence almost exclusively with violence. The lack of a more comprehensive approach to the escalating situation has led to a radicalization of some militant groups that now seriously undermines the functionality of the state in some parts of the region.
Today’s deadly attack on three individuals in the North Sinai (see ahramonline), regardless if they were executed by Egyptian or Israeli forces, does not come as a surprise. It has to be seen as a continuation of narrow policy making of political and military leaders that still have not learned one of the most important lessons of the Arab Spring: Violence usually leads to counter violence and weakens the functionality of the state, especially in fragile political transition phases. My viewpoints, expressed in the article below therefore still apply today.
Mr. President Embrace the People of Sinai!
The deadly attack on the Sinai Peninsula that left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead and several injured raises fundamental questions about Cairo’s future policy making in the Israeli-Palestinian border-region.
For President Mohammed Morsi, last weekend’s attacks can be seen as the first severe challenge of his legacy. His immediate reaction can be considered as one of the most important steps within the Egyptian democratization process. By retiring Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and cancelling the military-drafted addendum to the Constitutional Declaration, he initiated a substantial step in the transition process from military to civil power in Egypt. Therefore, he carries a severe responsibility not to make party politics but to achieve a national consensus for the drafting of the new Egyptian Constitution, which has to be a constitution not only of the Muslim Brotherhood but for all Egyptians, guaranteeing the separation of power.
“All Egyptians” not only includes the population living along the Nile, whether they are Muslims or Christians, Islamists or Liberals, Conservatives or Socialists, but also those inhabiting the Sinai Peninsula. Following the reaction to the latest terrorist attack during the past days I have observed an alarming distinction between an “us”, the Egyptian people from the Nile and a “them”, the people of the Sinai. Bedouin minorities are often allegedly declassed as “non-Egyptian” terrorists or militant Islamists. Of course, this exclusive perspective is not a new manifestation, but rather is rooted in decades of structural discrimination of the people living on the Sinai.
In his election campaign President Morsi promised improvements of the humanitarian situation on the Sinai. He pledged state welfare only a few months ago, now he is sending helicopter gunships. This will certainly not break the circle of violence, but rather foster further polarization within the Egyptian population. The digging for the origins of the recent terrorist attack might imply a need for critical self-reflection in Cairo. This can be painful for some decision makers, but this is the necessity of the moment, rather than hate and counter-violence alone. President Morsi now has the chance to embrace the whole Egyptian population. Behind every violent act there are personal stories, wishes and fears. Those we should listen to in order to draw conclusions on how security and stability can be achieved in the region.