The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Roberts on the Sinai bombing

Hugh Roberts, the International Crisis Group's North Africa director, has an interesting op-ed on the questions raised by the Dahab bombings:

The authorities’ reluctance to accept that Al-Qa‘eda may have been behind these events is understandable given the effect this admission could have on the tourist trade and may even be valid, but only underlines the mystery. The fact that most of the victims have been Egyptians, not foreign tourists, tends not to support the Al-Qaeda thesis. But the comparative sophistication of the terrorist organisation and its ability to survive security crackdowns is hard to square with the notion that disgruntled locals are behind these incidents.

However, there is no doubt that these repeated attacks are symptomatic of two factors specific to the Sinai. The first is the fact that, under the 1979 Camp David Agreement which secured the return of the peninsula to Egypt, the Egyptian state has less than full sovereignty over the region and its security forces are accordingly constrained in their attempts to control it or pursue terrorists within it, especially on the eastern side of the peninsula. The second is that the region’s population remains to be properly integrated into the Egyptian national community. Its longstanding marginality, aggravated by Israel’s 15 year occupation, has not been overcome since 1982. In particular, Egypt’s political parties have little presence among or appeal to the region’s population. The problem is that, at present, the Egyptian state is badly placed to address either of these factors underlying Sinai’s current propensity to generate or host the latest brand of terrorism to plague the country.
These are interesting points, but one issue is what Al Qaeda really means: a direct operation ordered by its leaders (bin Laden, Zawahri, etc.) or simply a local group inspired by Al Qaeda's ideas and perhaps helped by sympathetic groups abroad?