- Life Style
The comments made by revolutionary activists on the attack in which 16 Egyptian officers and soldiers were killed at the Karam Abu Salem checkpoint at the Egypt-Israel border are noteworthy. While some of them were confident that Israel was responsible for the attack, others were quite sure that Hamas perpetrated it.
Most of them insisted that the issue required a security solution involving tightening the monitoring of the borders and intensifying the presence of the police and army in Sinai, which made me feel that there is some sort of a problem with how revolutionary powers view the incident. I hereby present some remarks and conclusions on the incident to open a discussion on the Sinai issue and the Palestinian question and how they are related to the Egyptian revolution.
First, we need to note that a key element of the story is absent in most of the Egyptian accounts of the incident, which is the fact that the group that carried out the attack sought to carry out an operation inside Israel. This piece of information is not intended to provide justification for the incident or to clear the perpetrators of responsibility. This is only an essential fact, which if ignored would cause us to derive the wrong conclusions. Most sources say the assailants attacked the military unit to steal an armored vehicle and another loaded with explosives, and then headed to the Israeli border and blew up a path to storm into Israel. But their vehicle was attacked before it could carry out an attack against an Israeli target.
Second, this is not the first time Islamist jihadist elements have carried out operations in Sinai. In the middle of the first decade of the third millennium and under the rule of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, jihadist groups carried out two operations against tourist targets in Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba. And after the 25 January revolution, unknown powers believed to belong to Jihadist groups blew up the natural gas pipeline that exports gas to Israel 15 times. Different groups carried out a spate of attacks on police stations and military positions in central and northern Sinai, and again their attacks were blamed on Islamist jihadists whose influence increased in the Sinai Peninsula after the security grip on Sinai loosened in the aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster from power on 11 February last year, despite the absence of conclusive evidence that such groups were responsible for the attacks.
Unlike other incidents in which jihadists would exchange fire in direct confrontations with security forces, this time jihadists seemed to find it permissible to kill Egyptian security guards. This reflects how feelings of hostility for Egyptian authorities, represented by the police and army, have been firmly planted into their hearts.
Reading the positions taken by the different revolutionary powers, we find they are divided in categorizing the criminals into two discrete camps. The first insists that Israel did it because it would benefit from the attack, while the second camp says Palestinians — and more specifically, Hamas — did it, perhaps with the help of Iran and Hizbullah. They conclude that the attack demonstrates the failure of the policies of President Mohamed Morsy, who calls for deepening relations with Hamas and Gaza.
However, all indicators show both camps to be wrong, and demonstrate their obsession with conspiracy theories and their tendency to blame foreign hands for all catastrophes that befall the country. Clearly, Israel did not do it, for the assailants stormed into Israel and clashed with the Israeli Defense Forces. Furthermore, Israel had warned its citizens to leave Sinai ahead of the incident, saying a terrorist attack was imminent. These two facts prove that the attack targeted, rather than was perpetrated by, Israel.
I find the logic of those who claim Hamas did it quite perplexing. Why would Hamas send a well-trained group into Egyptian territory to kill 16 Egyptian security guards — in a premeditated attack, rather than as a result of a spontaneous series of incidents — and complicate its relationship with Egypt, embarrass the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsy and give the Egyptian army a chance to weaken Morsy’s position and Israel an opportunity to pile pressure to end cooperation between Gaza and Egypt after the revolution in Egypt?
The incident in question was carried out mostly by Egyptians under the influence of jihadist groups — which are enemies of the Brotherhood in Egypt and its counterpart Hamas in Gaza, and who had grown in Sinai in recent years. Impoverishing and persecuting Sinai residents over the past decades has produced radical powers that have an extremist reactionary nature. These groups seek to overcome the evil alliance between Israel, the US and Egyptian authorities.
Nobody can deny there is some level of coordination between the jihadists in Sinai and Gaza, and that coordination may have reached the level of regional cooperation between radical Islamist powers in the Middle East and beyond. External support for jihadists is only a helping factor for a phenomenon that has roots in Sinai. The expression “external support” should be handled very cautiously, for the depth of blood and historical relations between those persecuted on both sides of the borders render the terms “internal” and “external” misleading ones that refer to the interests of regional and international powers more than they do the interests of nations.
What happened, then? A historical reading of the development of interactions between neo-imperialism and neoliberalism in this geo-strategically sensitive part of the world might provide the correct context for understanding what happened.
First, the collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process is of paramount importance to our understanding of those incidents. After Israel failed to force its conditions for the peace process, and following the breakout of the second Palestinian uprising, Israel came to the belief that resolving its conflict with Arabs would not come through political cooperation with Arab regimes, but rather through unilaterally imposing a de facto situation.
This is when Israel adopted its policy of disengagement. The crux of this policy is for Israel to give up on its dream to hegemonize the greater Middle East through peaceful cooperation with colluding Arab regimes, and its dream to establish “Greater Israel” through imperialist wars with the purpose of engulfing land from the Nile to the Euphrates. Instead, Israel would adopt a strategy to strengthen “Lesser Israel,” which consists of the current state of Israel plus the bigger part of the West Bank. Israel would also unilaterally withdraw from all other Arab land without negotiations, while at the same time be allowed to undertake certain security procedures that include building separation walls in tense areas (Gaza and Sinai) and heaping pressure on neighboring regimes (Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon and Syria) to deter and besiege resistance movements.
This policy reflects the failure of the Zionist-imperialist project in the Middle East, for Ben Gurion’s dream of a “Greater Israel” with regional military influence has failed, and so has Perez’s dream of a “Greater Israel” with regional economic clout. What has remained is “Lesser Israel,” which is forced to protect its existence with high walls and security precautions.
But the other side of that policy was mounting brutality on the part of Israel. The previous decade was all about wars, with Lebanon’s Hizbullah and Palestine’s Hamas, besides the daily confrontations with Palestinians.
Meanwhile, confrontations between regimes, such as those of Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, and quasi-regimes such as the Palestinian Authority on the one hand and resistance movements on the other, intensified. Hamas was besieged after it achieved an electoral victory in early 2006, driving a rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. And Arab regimes conspired against Hizbullah, with some going as far in their hostility as to wish for it to be crushed by Israel.
Resistance movements, which may have indeed succeeded in foiling imperialist schemes, exposed their fatal defects. Resistance movements lost their sense of direction and their ability to inspire nations, particularly after the breakout of the Arab revolutions, for a number of reasons: They relied on the support of the suppressive regimes of Syria and Iran, adopted a racist vision of the conflict with Zionism as a conflict against Jews, and depended on reactionary policies that excluded those who had a different religion. They also insisted on strategies that do not place grassroots popular movement at the heart of the conflict with Zionism and imperialism.
On the other hand, the policies of neoliberalism were implemented in “liberated” Sinai, with Sinai being treated as a no man’s land. As a result, deluxe tourist resorts sprouted in Sinai, which became a land for the rich. The Sinai Peninsula no longer belonged to its people, and security forces used torture and suppression to protect it against its own people and incoming poor Egyptians — rather than against Israel.
When diverse groups began to rebel — using different ways, most of which were wrong, even reactionary — security monsters launched into an Israeli-style, monstrous mission to mass torture Sinai residents, denying them the right to development and to determine their priorities. This provided fertile soil for the spread of reactionary Salafi movements as the alternative capable of eliminating oppression and establishing the rule of God as they understand it.
On both sides of the border, in Sinai and Gaza, the road was paved for the birth of Salafi jihadist powers that had a reactionary vision similar to Al-Qaeda’s. The breakdown of the peace process, the brutality of Israel’s security solutions, the tight Arab-Egyptian blockade and the bankruptcy of resistance movements and their regional calculations created conditions that required non-existing progressive revolutionary solutions, which opened the way to reactionary solutions.
The way out
The aforementioned context is what makes me differ with revolutionary powers over solutions to the situation in Sinai. Their solutions focus on the security perspective that calls for addressing deficient security in Sinai and reviewing the peace treaty with Israel to allow Egypt to deploy more troops in the peninsula.
I do not differ with them over the procedures in and of themselves. The Egyptian army, indeed, suffers serious problems after investing its power in civil industries for decades. Also, the Camp David Peace Accords do need to be reviewed. But what astonishes me is the allegation that these procedures — to the exclusion of a loosely defined demand for developing Sinai — will decisively solve the crisis in Sinai.
Are the revolutionaries asking for security to tighten its grip on Sinai? Do they want the combing campaigns to return to arrest terrorist elements? Do they believe that a stifling security grip, the closure of borders and the blockade on Gazans will protect Egypt from the dangers of terrorism?
The solution to the crisis of the rise of the reactionary Salafi alternative is never to empower the police state or to feed hatred to other persecuted nations. Not only is that an inhumane and non-progressive solution, but it is also an infeasible one, for radical movements will remain so long as oppression remains on both sides of the border.
To my mind, the solution is to seek to create a revolutionary alternative in Sinai and Gaza. The solution is to combat reactionary jihadism by fostering a grassroots popular movement that struggles against torture by security, marginalization, blockade, neoliberalism, Zionism and neo-imperialism. We need a progressive perspective based on the unity of the peoples of Egypt and Palestine, the centrality of grassroots movements and the rejection of all forms of racism.
The Egyptian revolution and the wave of Arab revolutions provided a historic opportunity to create that alternative. Today, many months have passed and I do not know if there is still a chance. To be sure, though, the Islamophobic approach to solving the problem that calls for summoning the suppressive tools of the ruling elite will only serve to deepen the crisis and strengthen the enemy.
Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm by Dina Zafer