Leading article: The first real challenge for the Egyptian president

Complex regional interests are threatened by rising violence in the Sinai

Share
Related Topics

If nothing else, the audacious operation in which heavily armed militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers last Sunday, before driving a stolen armoured vehicle two kilometres into Israel, has shaken the kaleidoscope through which the Sinai peninsula is viewed across its borders with Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip. The subsequent show of force by the Egyptian authorities against jihadist tribesmen, the surprisingly warm praise by Israel's security establishment for the Islamist President in Cairo who authorised it, and the haste with which the Hamas leadership in Gaza denounced Sunday's attack all help to illustrate the complex – and globally important – interplay of interests threatened by an increasingly violent northern Sinai.

Whatever doubts there are about the military effectiveness of Egyptian air strikes in the area on Wednesday, it is clear that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, is trying to persuade both world and domestic opinion of his readiness to use force to impose stability in the volatile desert region. Even close analysts of Mr Morsi's evolving presidency are uncertain how far it is either he, or the military, who are calling the shots. Whether the accompanying purge of senior intelligence and other officials was an opportunist move to rid the President of officials associated with the old guard, or part of a genuine effort to recover control of the northern Sinai, or both, is also not yet clear. But it does at least suggest that Mr Morsi understands that the killing of the Egyptian soldiers, widely mourned by their compatriots, presents him with his greatest challenge since taking office less than two months ago.

If he can summon the will, ability and essential support of the Egyptian military, the new President is, paradoxically, as well placed as anyone to try to tackle the intractable security problems of the Sinai.

In Gaza, Hamas has conducted its own, sometimes bloody, struggles with the local ultra-militant groups which Egypt and Israel are blaming for last Sunday's operations. But the Gaza government has been less eager, up to now, to detain such jihadists permanently, or to stop their infiltration into Egypt through tunnels from which it derives substantial revenues. The tunnels, which have enriched a swathe of lawless Bedouin smugglers and arms dealers in the Sinai, were a response to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt over the past five years. And while violence has surged in the region since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, the seeds of tribal anarchy and extremist global jihadism were sown by the long years of social and economic neglect by the old regime.

Nor is it only Egypt's response that suggests last Sunday's bloody attack could conceivably prove a turning point. The perfunctory – and wholly unconvincing – claim from some Hamas officials that the Israeli intelligence agency was responsible only underlines the embarrassment in the movement (itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) that Egyptian soldiers might have been killed by militants including at least some infiltrators from Gaza. Equally, Israel's willingness to allow Egypt to increase its firepower in Sinai, despite the restrictions imposed by their 1979 treaty, suggests a softening towards a new leadership in Cairo it had been quick to brand as yet another threat to Israeli security.

In fact, Israel and Egypt – for their common security – and Hamas – in the cause of fostering relations with a potentially friendlier Egyptian neighbour – have a measure of common interest here. Borders, for example, which were more open, and therefore more regulated, would serve the interests of all three. But the Middle East is not a region where logic prevails. Whether any good can come from last Sunday's attack now rests largely on the shoulders of Mr Morsi.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Ed Miliband said the Tories are a danger to family finances  

Election 2015: Me, my 18-year-old son, and why I’m voting Labour

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before