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Islamic State flexes its’ muscles in Egypt: A counterattack on #Sinai2018 – Sanet Madonsela

November 8, 2018


Islamic State flexes its’ muscles in Egypt: A counterattack on #Sinai2018

By Sanet Madonsela

Sanet Madonsela is a specialist on Political Islam in Egypt. Email:

Volume 6 (2018), Number 19 (November 2018)

“Anger is an emotion preeminently serviceable for the display of power”-Walter Bradford Cannon

The November 2, 2018 deaths of seven Coptic Christians have managed to make headlines around the globe. While it might be easy to make assumptions about who did it and how it happened, the question of why these Coptic Christians were killed still hovers.In order to answer this question and avoid applying incorrect remedies, a bit of context needs to be provided.

The Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula has been waging a deadly insurgency since the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi’s ouster in a military coup by General al-Sisi in 2013. Morsi was succeeded by now President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who launched a brutal attack on Islamists in 2013. His government believed that fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters was the only way to end terrorism and establish peace and security in Egypt. This massive crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood left the Islamist field open to extreme groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. This has, in turn, made Egypt the ideal recruitment base for militant jihadist organizations as there was no non-violent avenue. The new Egyptian government failed to establish its legitimacy, because it failed to build public trust in the security sector. Rule of law has been undermined as security actors are not held accountable for torturing citizens. Al-Sisi’s harsh security campaign has also legitimized militant groups as they can appeal to Egyptians based on their shared injustices. Moreover, the Egyptian government’s counter-terrorism attempts have produced more enemies than it has contained. Its crowded prisons have also become a breeding ground for extremism and radicalization.

More recently, the Islamic State opened fire on three minibuses carrying Coptic Christians. They managed to kill 7 people and wounded 19. They stated that they would continuously target Egypt’s Christians as punishment for supporting President al-Sisi. The Egyptian Interior Ministry scrambled to respond to a surge of Christian anger against the government. It stated that the 19 militants responsible for the death of these seven pilgrims have been killed. While this temporarily solves the problem, the question of why these Coptic Christians were killed remains unanswered. The Egyptian state launched a comprehensive operation called the “Sinai 2018” on February 9, 2018. This operation was aimed at removing terrorist and criminal elements and organizations from the Sinai, parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert. The operation has been successful in weakening the Islamic State in the Sinai. The Islamic State, however, regrouped and started responding on 24 October 2018. This day witnessed the deadliest attack on Egypt’s military in years. Twenty-eight soldiers were killed and 30 injured in North Sinai. This was followed by an attack on Coptic Christians on 2 November 2018. It would be flawed to view these as separate incidents. The attack on Coptic Christians also served two other purposes – to gain control over the fertile ground in the Minya province, as well as send a message to the Egyptian state that they are far from being defeated. Additionally, this attack also sought to avenge the death of Abu Hamza al-Maqdisi-who was in charge of the group’s training and planning in the Sinai.

All these attacks form part of a much bigger goal – the destabilization of the Egyptian state. It is important to note that Islamic State seeks to destroy the Egyptian security and economy and has been assisted through the Egyptian state’s negligence and discrimination against citizens in the Sinai. Through this, the Islamic State has managed to convince tribes in the Sinai to cooperate with them in exchange for improved employment in the area. In doing this, they have managed to attain good intelligence, which assisted IS fighters from avoiding being captured whilst initiating fatal ambushes for Egypt’s armed forces. The Egyptian state should accept that this group will not disappear in the near future and that their presence in the country is a symptom of a bigger problem. While probable remedies could include reconciliation talks at a senior level between non-violent Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood) and the state, stopping extrajudicial killings and improved governance, the Egyptian state needs a more serious intervention strategy in the Sinai – one which privileges human security in an attempt to buy back the loyalty of the disparate tribes in the region.

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