The people of Sinai were the first to condemn it, noting it is the first in a long time and acknowledging that life had returned to a semblance of normalcy for the first time in 10 years.
In their cowardly strike, the militants who carried it out – allegedly members of IS, which claimed responsibility – targeted an isolated checkpoint providing security for a water pumping station east of the Suez Canal. This is one of many projects the government has launched recently to improve conditions in the peninsula. Providing clean water for their daily use and for agricultural development projects has been a top priority for the government in recent years.
After the Egyptian people brought down the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013, Egypt witnessed a sharp rise in terrorist attacks. Knowing that they had lost the battle to rule the country, the Brotherhood and its terrorist affiliates resorted to terrorism to strike back.
But, facing heroism on the part of police and military personnel, they lost drastically. After major terrorist attacks in Cairo and other major cities, targeting top officials as well as police headquarters and churches, security forces responded forcefully. Those bloody attacks came to a total halt, allowing the government to proceed with its ambitious economic development plan to build the New Republic.
Sinai then became the main frontline as terrorists flooded from all over the world hoping to turn the peninsula into one of their strongholds as they did with Mosul, Iraq or parts of Syria. Yet such a charade would never be permitted. Despite heavy losses and hundreds of martyrs killed on the frontlines in bloody terrorist attacks, Egyptian security forces managed to turn the tide and nearly won the battle against terrorist groups such as IS and others who came to Sinai.
However, victims of terrorism in Sinai were not limited to army and police. Sinai residents will never forgive or forget the attack against a mosque in 2017 in which 300 people, including children, were shot dead in cold blood as they offered their prayers to God. Perhaps this was an important turning point after which the vast majority of residents of the mostly desert region joined security forces to battle against the terrorists who threatened their lives and added to their daily hardships.
Since February 2018, when the army launched a major offensive, the pace of militant attacks in Sinai’s main theatre of operations, mainly in the northern part of the peninsula, had slowed to a trickle. The military has secured large areas of the strategic stretch of land bordering Palestine’s Gaza and Israel on one side, and the Suez Canal on the other. It is no longer on the back foot. Many of the militants have been killed, fled or surrendered. As few as 200 are still active, down from 400 two years ago and 800 in 2017, according to informed security sources.
There has been a continuous and significant decline in the number of attacks over the past three years, with approximately 17 recorded shooting attacks and 39 bomb attacks in 2021 compared to 166 and 187 respectively in 2017. Security presence in southern Sinai, a popular tourist destination, has also been reinforced and most international travel warnings scaled back. The recent drop in number of tourists was not because of terrorism, but because of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Yet an equally important fact is that the region, which has long complained of neglect, has undergone a complete facelift following dozens of ambitious development schemes.
Only a few days before this attack, condemned not only locally but across the Arab world and beyond, the cabinet’s media centre had released a report highlighting the comprehensive plan to change life on the turquoise land, Sinai, by launching mega projects all over the peninsula, with investments amounting to more than LE 700 billion in eight years. According to the same report, total public investments for Sinai and Canal cities reached LE 45.1 billion in 2021/2022, compared to EGP 6.2 billion in 2013/2014, with an increase of 627.4 per cent. A few months ago, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated a $1.3 billion agricultural wastewater plant to help reclaim land for farming.
The government also recently announced a plan for 17 agricultural and residential development clusters across Sinai, 10 in the north, where most terrorist attacks take place. Those displaced whether by the fight against terrorism or due to mega development projects were allocated modern and traditional homes instead.
President Al-Sisi, while mourning the martyrdom of the 11 troops this week, vowed to continue “uprooting terrorism.” A few weeks earlier, he had stressed: “We will not leave any land that can be developed in Sinai until we make it grow.” This is the strategy that Egypt will continue to follow: fighting terrorism with no mercy until it is totally defeated, and working at the same time to develop Sinai and benefit its people.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.