Last month, Egypt celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, which it had lost in the Six-Day War. Since then Cairo has not used the territory to launch attacks against the Jewish state, but it has once again become a bastion of terror—most of which has been associated with Islamic State and aimed at the Egyptian government. Jonny Essa and Ofir Winter examine the situation in the Sinai, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s recent speech on the subject, and the implications for Israel:
Over the past decade, terrorism in Sinai’s northern governorate has led to the loss of thousands of lives of Egyptian civilians and military and security forces, and prompted ongoing instability. . . . The Sinai insurgency is fueled by localized grievances as well as wider regional developments. Its upsurge was boosted partly by the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, which created a conducive environment for insurgency against the Cairo regime, and partly by the influx of Islamic State foreign elements, as some local Bedouin tribes have joined militant Salafi-jihadist groups in a “marriage of convenience.”
As President Sisi implicitly admitted, a major underlying cause of the conflict is Bedouin anger at the Egyptian state’s longstanding economic, social, and political policies that discriminate against and marginalize the Bedouin. These include insufficient political representation of the Bedouin, denial of land rights, and exclusion from the Sinai’s tourism industry. . . . Denied legitimate economic opportunities, some Bedouin elements have turned increasingly to illicit activities, notably smuggling of weapons, drugs, and goods to Gaza and Israel.
Sisi has sought to remedy the situation by investing billions of dollars in economic development and infrastructure in the peninsula, but it remains to be seen whether these efforts will bring any real improvements. In the meantime, after a few years of declining terror, the Sinai in the past several months has seen an upswing in the number of attacks.