Sinai on the brink: Arms trafficking and the rise of Egypt's Jihadist groups

News article, posted 08.07.2012, from Egypt, in:
Sinai on the brink: Arms trafficking and the rise of Egypt's Jihadist groups (Photo: Reuters)

Sunday's bloody attack by unknown assailants on Egyptian border guards in the Sinai Peninsula is being heralded as another example of the deterioration of Egyptian state control over the volatile region since the fall of the Mubarak regime.

Following emergency meetings with military, governmental and intelligence officials, President Mohamed Morsi briefly visited the Egypt-Israel border town of Rafah Monday afternoon in a bid to restore people’s confidence in the country's security situation.

Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali's reiterations earlier Monday that Egypt had control over the explosive area did little to reassure the public when the Egyptian army admitted in an audio statement a few hours later that a group of 35 "terrorists" had managed to kill 16 security officers and wound seven others, commandeer a military APC and penetrate the heavily-guarded Egypt-Israel border.

This led Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak to comment that "once again" there was a "need for Egyptian operation to instil security and prevent terror in Sinai" in a statement published on the Israeli army official website.

The Muslim Brotherhood responded Monday evening with a statement blaming Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for the violence, backing up its allegations with the fact that the self-proclaimed Jewish state had warned citizens to leave Sinai days earlier.

Whoever is responsible, Sunday's explosion was not an isolated event. The attack is preceded by the alleged rise of jihadist groups and increased reports of the seizure of smuggled arms in the Sinai region over the course of the last 18 months.

Islam Qudair, a young political activist from the Sinai, recounts the origins of the problem in the peninsula. He traced the security breakdown along the border strip from Rafah to Mahdiya, Jafiya and Wadi Amr to former security officials under the Mubarak regime.

“[Security officials] used the route for arms smuggling from which they raked in huge profits. They introduced the Bedouin tribes to the trade. Anyone who defied these officials would at the very least face arrest,” Qudair explained. “Following the security breakdown in the wake of the revolution and easy access to Libyan arms Bedouins took over the trade in north Sinai. It is so lucrative that they not only earn a living but can amass fortunes. Now it will take more than just governorate security forces to deal with the trade. Any remedy will have to involve national agencies."

Mohamed Hamad, the son of a tribal chief in Beer Al-Abad, has a similarly bleak prognosis.

"We were shocked at the huge quantity of arms. They came from different sources. Some we know came from Gabal Al-Halal after being smuggled from Israel. Others came along the north coast road from Libya. What is frightening is that guns now speak loudest and are having the last say."

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