Last August I wrote a column titled “Sinai: unanswered questions”, the column was a few days after the attack on the Egyptian soldiers in Sinai at the beginning of Ramadan last year. In case people had forgotten what happened, or got mixed up between the August attack and any other attack on Sinai, the one last August was around Iftar time and involved reckless shooting at soldiers. A few days after the attack last summer, the army announced an operation aiming to rid Sinai of the criminal elements in it, instil order and declare the domination of the Egyptian state over Sinai soil. The main question that concerned me at that time was whether the army knew what it was doing there or not. If the army knew the criminal targets in Sinai, since it started that operation only a few days after the attack, why didn’t it move earlier, why did it have to wait until blood was spilled? If it did not know where these targets existed, then what exactly is the army doing in Sinai, and is there any other purpose behind that operation other than responding to political pressure?
The beauty of being a writer who writes about politics in Egypt is the fact that less than a year later, you can find yourself writing pretty much the exact same thing you wrote before, hoping that one day those who are supposedly responsible will eventually read, or their ignorance and complacency will eventually catch up with me!
I am not sure if we should congratulate ourselves that our soldiers are back safely or if we should just continue looking stupidly at each other feeling content that we are slowly becoming a nation flooded by apathy. There is no doubt that I personally feel happy for the families of those soldiers who will finally get to see their sons, brothers and husbands. But what the state truly owes those soldiers and their families and all other equally concerned citizens is information. What is required from the state is not just the logical ordinary procedure of legal prosecution of the perpetrators; what is more important is reassuring that this will not happen again. It is the right of every mother and father to know that their sons who are stationed thousands of miles away in the middle of nowhere are at least supported by an institution that cares for their safety. Ironically, information is the one thing we never have enough of when it comes to Sinai.
President Morsi must understand that his biggest failure so far is his inability to provide, not even necessarily the whole truth, but at least the minimal satisfactory level of information to his people about what happened in Sinai. The number of unanswered questions about what happened is ridiculous. For example, who exactly was negotiating with the kidnappers? Why did suddenly the negotiations work? If these negotiations did not work for a week then suddenly were effective then something must have changed, some kind of compromise must have been made, what was it? Where are the kidnappers? Waheed Hamed wrote a brilliant movie about the siege of the Mogamaa in Tahrir Square, where at the end of the movie the police fail to identify who are the victims and who are the criminals because against the injustice and dishonesty of the regime the people are one. Whoever is responsible for engineering the production of the Sinai charade should have realised that this is not “Al-Irhab wa Al-Kebab”.
What is the truth behind the power struggle between the president and the army? Why is it that both the defence minister and the minister of interior both looked seriously depressed, not like two ministers who just successfully finished a mission? To what extent is the Muslim Brotherhood involved in what happened? What the hell does it mean that the kidnappers are not Muslim Brothers but “they respect them”? Did the “respected” Brotherhood try to use that status to negotiate with the kidnappers? Finally, why is it that we have leaders who are incapable of making up believable stories?
When so much remains hidden, don’t be surprised when truth is lost, don’t be alarmed when rumour becomes fact and don’t condemn those who question your impotent storyline. But in the middle of all these “might-be” truths, the following are the definite truths about Sinai.
The presence of the state in Sinai is minimal; the vast amount of unused land and mountains is a perfect hiding and training spot for all terrorist related activities. If the availability of space is put next to the state of religious radicalisation that Egypt has been going through for the past two years and the collapse of the security apparatus, this will add up to having a potential terrorist hub on the eastern borders of Egypt.
Another truth about Sinai is how neglected its people are. How many Egyptian Bedouins are in the police force or the military corps or the judiciary? There is a very evident unequal access that the people of Sinai are suffering from. How much money has been spent on developing a proper infrastructure for a city that could be a very lucrative source of income for Egypt?
More truth about Sinai, since 2011 and the recurring anonymous explosions of the gas pipeline, the security of Sinai has been at its lowest level ever. The problem is not just the increase in the number of attacks; the real problem is the constant failure of all state institutions to find out what’s happening in Sinai and who is responsible for it. In other words, Sinai is slowly slipping into a region that’s out of the Egyptian state’s control.
The ongoing struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political forces is not at all important right now; arguing over who is responsible and what should have happened is completely useless. What the state needs to do is start implementing policies that take into concern the truths on the ground. Sinai is in urgent need of policies that boost equal access, citizenship rights and equal integration. Sinai also needs a police force that does not deal with Bedouins as if they are notorious unless proven otherwise. And finally, not just Sinai but the whole country is in need of a president and a prime minister who tell the truth, or at least respect their people’s intelligence and tell sophisticated lies.