Johannesburg - Innocent South African tourists enjoying a holiday in Egypt, a country with a rich history, are the latest victims of the North African country’s ongoing war with Islamist militants.
Following Sunday’s attack on their tour bus near the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of the capital Cairo, the majority of the tour group returned home to South Africa after seven were injured, aside from three who were hospitalised in Egypt.
Revenge was swift with 12 militants from the Hasm group killed by Egyptian security forces on Monday during raids on their hideouts in the 6th of October and Al Shorouk districts of the capital, without the Egyptian authorities confirming if those killed were linked to Sunday’s attack.
The events of the last few days are just the latest in a cycle of tit-for-tat violence as Egypt continues to battle Islamist militants who have been waging an insurgency against both civilians and the military, specifically in the restive Sinai Peninsula but also on the mainland.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed by these militants who have focused their attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority while Sufi Muslims have also been targeted.
President Abdel-Fateh El Sisi and his government have portrayed the ongoing battle with the extremists as simply a fight against terrorism, but human rights groups and analysts state that it is far more complex than that.
The Islamist insurgency spiked in 2013 after the overthrow of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood’s leader Mohamed Morsi - who was elected president in 2012 during Egypt’s first-ever democratic elections - in a military coup led by Sisi who subsequently won the 2014 elections.
Sisi won a second term last year, again in controversial circumstances.
“Since President Sisi secured a second term in a largely unfree and unfair presidential election in March, 2018, his security forces have escalated a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arrests against political opponents, civil society activists, and many others who have simply voiced mild criticism of the government,” said Human Right Watch (HRW) in their 2019 report on Egypt.
“The Egyptian government and state media have framed this repression under the guise of combating terrorism, and Sisi has increasingly invoked terrorism and the country’s state of emergency law to silence peaceful activists,” added HRW.
Painting the Muslim Brotherhood, and all other critics and political opponents, with the same brush as Islamist militants in the Sinai who are linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists, is disingenuous, suggest analysts too.
Giuseppe Dentice, an associate research fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, suggested that in addition to Sisi’s desire to cling to power - as witnessed by a recent new law approved by the Egyptian parliament which will allow the president to stay in office until 2030 – the terrorism threat may also be a red herring for covering his political inadequacies.
“The timing of the launching of the new anti-terror operation ‘Mobilisation for Operation Sinai-2018’ (following an attack on a Sufi Mosque in Sinai in late 2017 which killed over 300 people) came amidst an unsettled debate over whether he had fulfilled several campaign promises he made during his presidential campaign in 2014,” wrote Dentice.
“Egypt was experiencing terrorist attacks, rising political tensions and a deep economic crisis, whereas former Field-Marshal Sisi promised political stability, eradication of terrorism, and socio-economic prosperity for the 90-plus millions of Egyptians.”
Prior to the launch of Operation Sinai, Cairo promised to defeat the militants in three months. This never transpired and the operation was extended, and continues to this day, as do the attacks which, while downgraded, have not run out of recruits brimming with resentment at their perceived political and economic marginalisation in the Sinai.