Egyptian President Abdul el-Sissi has used ever more violent means to try and counter the violence in the Sinai Peninsula. In spite of concerted efforts to stop the insurgents there was a devastating series of attacks on January 29.
One source put the casualties from the attack at 31 people and another source at least 26. The Egyptian army had begun to feel confident that a strong military response to earlier attacks had decisively weakened the insurgency. Last October, the group then called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis launched an attack on a military checkpoint that killed 31 and wounded many more. The Egyptian government blamed "foreigners" for the attack. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, originally inspired by Al Qaeda, has recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and rebranded itself as the Sinai Province of the Islamic State. Egyptian president Abdel el-Sissi also blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the recent attack, claiming it had a role in the operation. Since overthrowing the former president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi has constantly blamed the group for terrorist activity. The Brotherhood is now designated a terrorist organization in Egypt.
El-Sissi has used Sinai terrorist activity as an excuse to crack down on dissent elsewhere in Egypt. The Egyptian government responded to the October attacks by violence against Sinai inhabitants, all in the name of fighting terror. In order to create a buffer zone between Egypt and the Gaza Strip border, the Egyptian government simply ejected thousands of residents from their homes and blew them up. One resident of the Sinai, Abu Musallam, vented his anger:
"We are staying here. They bomb the house; we build a hut. They burn the hut; we build another hut. They kill; we give birth. I urge the army to treat us like we treated them in 1967. We gave them our clothes to hide them from the Israelis. We serviced them. We respected them, and we helped them flee. Is this how they pay us back?"
Aaron Reese, of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said that the Egyptian Army was not about to engage in urban warfare with insurgents. They prefer to use tanks and helicopter gunships against targets even though individual militants blend in with the local population. Egyptian security and social policies in the Sinai see the area as a threat rather than as an opportunity to develop the area and gain the support of the local population. Residents are seen as potential informants, terrorists, spies, or smugglers. Egyptian policies have turned many exactly in those directions making it possible for militants to survive in spite of the constant attacks of the Egyptian military:
Those policies were formulated and executed by security and military bureaucracies - principally the State Security Investigations (SSI, now renamed the National Security Apparatus), the General Intelligence Apparatus (GIA) and the Military Intelligence Apparatus (MIS) - without any review or oversight from elected or judicial bodies or independent experts.
In 2012 even el-Sissi, then defense minister, warned his officers against these policies since they would "create an internal enemy with a vendetta against us". Perhaps now he is president he finds the violence useful as a justification for his repressive policies against any and all opponents. Continued insurgent violence shows a strong government supported by a strong military is necessary in Egypt. As long as Egypt fights the war on terror, helps control Hamas, and keeps the peace with Israel, the west will continue to send billions in military aid.