Egyptians shocked, defiant after Sinai mosque attack

More than 74 Sinai tribes announced their intention to track down those responsible for the attack on al-Rawda mosque.

Spectre of darkness. An Egyptian woman holds a candle at a vigil outside the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo in memory of the victims of the Sinai mosque attack, on November 27. (AFP)


2017/12/03 Issue: 134 Page: 10


The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam



Cairo- Since the worst terrorist in­cident in Egypt’s modern history, Egyptians united to condemn the attack on a Sinai mosque but acknowl­edged fears about the future.

More than 74 Sinai tribes an­nounced their intention to track down those responsible for the at­tack on al-Rawda mosque in Bir al- Abed in northern Sinai on Novem­ber 24, which resulted in the death of more than 300 people.

“We will trade blood for blood, terrorism for terrorism,” said Sheikh Abdel Monem Rifai, a spokesman for the self-styled Union of Sinai Tribes. “We will use all means at our disposal to back the army in its war against the terrorists.”

A statement from the Union of Sinai Tribes called for “revenge” against the suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants responsible for the attack, signalling a turning point in Egypt’s war on terrorism in the Si­nai Peninsula.

The Egyptian military had pre­viously secured unilateral agree­ments and alliances with various Sinai tribes, most prominently the powerful Tarabin Bedouin tribe, to fight extremists in North Sinai. The Union of Sinai Tribes’ statement is considered a major shift in the frag­ile alliance between the Egyptian state and Sinai’s tribes.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the military to use “all force necessary” to se­cure the Sinai Peninsula within the next three months.

Egypt launched air strikes against targets in North Sinai after the mosque attack. However, the gov­ernment’s military-focused solu­tion to the deteriorating situation in the Sinai Peninsula has failed to yield dividends, with many calling on Cairo to instead pursue a broad­er multifaceted response against terrorism.

Although there has been no offi­cial claim of responsibility for the attack, many observers — including the Union of Sinai Tribes — named ISIS as responsible. ISIS in Sinai, unlike many al-Qaeda groups in the peninsula, is not thought to have a large contingency of local fighters.

Witnesses said the attackers wore military uniforms, had long hair and waved the black flag of ISIS.

Analysts said that the attack on the mosque could serve as a rally­ing call against terrorists. ISIS had reportedly warned the people of Bir al-Abed and al-Rawda mosque, which had a large Sufi congrega­tion.

Sufis across Egypt expressed con­cern that the attack could be the start of a terror campaign against their sect.

“ISIS only wants to sow the seeds of sedition among Egyptians,” said Abdel Hadi al-Qasabi, the head of the Supreme Council for Sufi Or­ders, “but the attacks of these ter­rorists will only make us stronger.”

There are millions of Egyptian Sufis. Mawlid an-Nabawi, the ob­servance of the Prophet Moham­mad’s birthday, is a traditional time of celebration for Egyptians, par­ticularly Sufis. However, celebra­tions were curtailed after al-Rawda attack.

Qasabi and other Sufi offi­cials called on Egyptian authori­ties to tighten security as Mawlid an-Nabawi celebrations ap­proached.

Security analysts expressed con­cerns that al-Rawda attack was a watershed moment and that ter­rorists would focus on other soft targets, including public transport.

“This is why it is important that each and every one of us cooper­ate with security agencies to pre­vent these terrorists from making successes,” said retired army Gen­eral Magdi Shehata. “The terror­ists targeted the Christians in the past. Now they are targeting the Sufis and tomorrow they will target other Egyptians.”

In the fall of 2016, ISIS-affiliated extremists released images pur­porting to show the execution of a Sufi leader from Sinai who was reportedly about 100 years old. They accused the cleric of practis­ing witchcraft. ISIS has killed tribe members in the area, accusing them of collaborating with the army.

The tribes pledged to set differ­ences aside and offer greater co­operation with the military against ISIS. A large number of armed tribe members have been deployed along mountainous routes used by ISIS in attacks on army and police posts.

Sinai tribes make up almost one-quarter of North Sinai’s population of 400,000. They are in continual contact with the army in Sinai to make it harder for ISIS fighters to get around the mountainous prov­ince.

“There will also be a member of the tribes inside each army ar­moured vehicle to lead the troops to the places where the terrorists are hiding,” Rifai said. “This is our war and we will not rest until Sinai is free of these terrorists.”


Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.


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