Egypt seeks development to fight Sinai militancy
CAIRO - Egypt is turning to infrastructure development to fight militancy in the Sinai peninsula as attacks targeting Egyptian troops surge in the vast desert.
The government allocated $1.2 billion for the development of Sinai, paving roads, constructing housing units and launching industrial and agricultural projects, all with the aim of raising the living standards of the peninsula’s residents and fighting extremism.
Sinai had fallen off Egypt’s development plans for decades and its residents were not treated on equal footing with other Egyptians when it came to jobs or admission into the military and state-owned universities.
“The government has already started fighting terrorism by development,” political analyst Abdel- Monem Halawa said. “Together with security measures, this development will surely reduce support for the militants.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has outlined the precarious nature of Sinai’s development, saying contractors working on road projects there had been threatened by militants.
A surge in attacks against troops has occurred in what experts describe as a change of tactics by the militants. The militants, originally disgruntled Sinai residents who in late 2014 swore allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), tend to avoid direct confrontations with the army, which outnumbers and outguns them.
“The militants are no longer into large-scale attacks on army posts or confrontations with the army troops,” said Nageh Ibrahim, a former jihadist who in recent years has turned into an expert on militant organisations. “They now depend on what are called lone-wolf attacks, which help them ensnare army troops and officers, avoiding any casualties within their own ranks.”
The militants attempted to overrun parts of northern Sinai and declare it the capital of their aspired Islamic state in the north-eastern Egyptian peninsula on July 1st, 2015, with a series of coordinated attacks on army posts, killing at least 20 military personnel.
Two months later, the army launched its largest operation against the militants, going over large parts of northern Sinai with what some military experts described at the time as a “fine-tooth comb”.
Dozens of militants were killed in the operation after which the military declared some militant hotspots totally clean.
The operation resulted in the discovery of several weapons depots.
Observers attribute the recent resurgence of militant activities to intensification of support for the militants from the Gaza Strip, which borders Sinai and is linked to the peninsula with a number of tunnels, mainly run by Palestinian faction Hamas, which rules Gaza.
“Gaza has been functioning as a lifeline for the militants in Sinai for a long time now,” Halawa said. “Some of the jihadist groups present in Gaza have sworn allegiance to [ISIS] and supply Sinai’s militants with arms and personnel through the tunnels.”
The Egyptian Army demolished hundreds of tunnels between Sinai and Gaza but a handful of the passages are said to still be functioning, giving ISIS and other militants opportunities to move supplies and cross into Gaza for medical treatment, according to media reports.
Hamas says it has nothing to do with the turmoil in Sinai but this is little believed by Cairo, which accuses the Palestinian group of not doing enough to tighten its control on Gaza’s border with Egypt.
Egypt has failed to win the hearts of the Bedouins of Sinai in its battle against the militants, according to media reports.
Observers cite a number of reasons for this failure, including the tribes’ fears of retaliation by militants and the fact that some of them hail from the tribes, making it inconceivable for them to fight their relatives.