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Rapid remedies to calm down an Egyptian public after the Sinai attacks

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Egypt is mourning its soldiers and even more so Egypt’s future and the possible political implications.


Dina El Sharnouby
13 August 2012

Egypt is mourning its soldiers and even more so Egypt’s future and the possible political implications. On August 6, 2012, sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Rafah while breaking their fast. The attack has brought two important issues to the surface: first whom to hold responsible and secondly how Egypt’s government should deal with Egypt’s internal and external issues.

While they wait to find out who was responsible for this deadly attack, the Egyptian public has voiced all sorts of different theories and opinions. For some it was Hamas, others, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, suggest the Israeli Mossad, and still others believe it could have been Hizbullah. The media since then has reports on terrorist attacks by organized groups in Sinai.  Within the many assumptions and theories flying around, however, the issue of terrorism, how it is bred, and bigger notions related to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict seem rather absent from our public discourse. Finding an immediate enemy to deal with seems easier than getting to grips with these deeper problems.

The reaction of the Egyptian Government with President Mohamed Morsi as its president has been highly criticized. Immediately after the incident the Egyptian Government used their familiar strategies of ‘control’. Instead of finding new means of dealing with the problem, Egyptian airports were immediately ordered to have all Palestinians entering Egypt returned, not allowing them to enter the country. Secondly, the Rafah crossing was closed. Various means of finding and destroying tunnels between Egypt and Gaza are being investigated, and meanwhile Egyptian armed forces are meant to be strengthened in number and equipment at these borders.

As if such “terrorist” attacks never happened before, and the Egyptian public, let alone the government, were not aware of any such tunnels! Dealing with these issues have been the cause of many ambiguities, especially for activists. While many Egyptians do not seem to question what it means to close the Rafah borders, just assuming that it is something to do with “controlling the terrorist flow” into Egypt, these borders have always been controlled. Unlike the tunnels, as the name suggests, a border between two countries is regulated by certain rules and checkpoints. So within the context of the attacks one has to ask exactly what the closing of the Rafah border means, other than giving the Egyptian public a feeling of immediate security. The problem, however, will not be resolved by closing borders, burying tunnels, or preventing Palestinians from entering Egypt.

The problem of Israel is a much bigger one. The Egyptian public in general  - whether we are talking  about activists, liberals, socialists, or members of the Muslim Brotherhood - all tread very carefully when it comes to finding possibilities to resolve the Egypt/ Israel/ Palestine issues. The means attempted is usually a peaceful approach, as can be seen for example in the case of the Camp David agreement. After the attacks, many have suggested that the agreement must be modified by allowing Egyptian soldiers to have a stronger presence on the borders, so that they might be better protected. The peace agreement is strongly agreed upon among the general public and no one pushes for nor assumes that Egypt should break its peace with Israel.

However, Israel is a country many Egyptians are very cautious in dealing with, precisely because of the unpredictability of its moves. It is no surprise that it has been suggested that Israeli intelligence, Mossad, was responsible for the attacks, so that they might claim that Egypt’s Government is not doing a good job in protecting the borders in Egypt. They fear that Israel might then propose to control the Egyptian borders themselves. People make these assumptions. But neither activists nor the government are calling for a re-negotiation of the peace treaty with Israel.

The death of the soldiers on the Rafah crossing has unearthed major outstanding problems and ambiguities within Egyptian society. Sadly, these issues are not dealt with as fundamentally democratic problems but rather as occasions which necessitate calming mechanisms to be deployed to control the Egyptian public. But the questions remain: how do these “terrorists” come about? how should they be dealt with? -  especially when you take into account the injustice of the lives of many Palestinians in Gaza and as a result of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.       

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