Political groups expressed widespread condemnation of the militant attacks in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday – which killed at least 30 soldiers and injured dozens – however some criticised the effectiveness of the government’s anti-terrorism campaign.
Al-Tayar Al-Sha’aby (Popular Current), the movement of the former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy, condemned the attack but criticised “the total absence of protective security measures” as well as the intelligence expected to provide the officials with information on terrorist groups.
“Since August 2012 after the launch of the security operation [in the province], our soldiers have been losing their lives day and night,” the statement said.
The party accused the authorities of failing to face terrorism in Egypt.
“The recent terrorist attacks outside Cairo University and in North Sinai raise a question about the efficiency of ongoing security confrontations that began about three years ago, only resulting in more casualties,” the party said.
Mohamed Al-Amin, a spokesperson for the Conservative Party, condemned what he described as the “silence” of the presidency and the military in regards to the offensive against the armed forces.
Other political parties rallied firmly behind the authorities. Secretary General of the Free Egyptians Party Essam Khalil said that terrorism will not “break the will of the Egyptian people and their army.” The Free Egyptians Party is of liberal orientation and was founded in 2011 by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris.
“Neither will [terrorism] disrupt our [endeavours] to build our homeland,” added Khalil, who then praised the swift measures taken by the president in reaction to the attacks.
Al-Dostour (Constitution) Party, co-founded by Mohammed ElBaradei in 2012, expressed full support for the armed forces in their fight against terrorism. The party called on the authorities to open an immediate investigation into the incident and be transparent about the current situation in North Sinai.
“We call on the officials to offer information about the actual situation in this…part of Egypt after over one year of constant confrontations [that led to] the killing of a large number of army and police forces,” the party said in an official statement published on its website.
Several groups that have been outlawed by the government in the course of the past year also made their views known. The Anti-Coup Alliance, an Islamist coalition that calls for the reinstatement of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt, fiercely criticised the authorities. “More army recruits were killed in a new massacre that added to the black record of the military junta, which has thrown the army in the political arena and put North Sinai under siege,” said the alliance in an e-mail statement.
The 6 April Youth Movement, an activist organisation that played a major role in the 25 January Revolution and that was banned by a court order in April this year, said the army’s involvement in politics and civilian life was bound to lead to such attacks.
“The number of military operations carried out by the armed forces in Sinai is endless, yet we see no end to this dark tunnel [of violence],” said Amr Ali, the movement’s general coordinator.
April 6 called for the perpetrators of the attacks to be held accountable but also insisted on the necessity of sacking officials in charge of security operations in the area where the attack occurred.
Meanwhile, Shawky Allam, the grand Mufti of Egypt, denounced the assault, saying such “dishonourable blasts won’t affect the Egyptians’ wills against black terrorism.”
In reference to the perpetrators, Allam said: “Islam has nothing to do with those terrorists.”
In its last years in power, Mubarak’s government appeared to have subdued militancy but the attacks resumed after the 2011 revolution and increased markedly in frequency and violence after the toppling of Morsi in July 2013.
Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda inspired militant organisation, has claimed many of the attacks since 2011, mostly in North Sinai but also in other parts of the country, including an attempt on the life of Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim in Cairo.
Recent attacks include one on 19 October, when an armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb south of Al-Arish, resulting in six deaths. Three days earlier, two policemen were killed when their patrol car was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.
On 2 September, an explosive device targeted a military convoy on the Rafah road, resulting in 11 deaths. In recent months, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis also carried out several beheadings of people it accused of providing information to Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.
The group has stated on numerous occasions that it targets the security forces because it rejects military rule and the militarisation of North Sinai.
The US, the UK, and Egypt all declared Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis a terrorist organisation in April 2014, following a long string of attacks that included pipeline bombings, assassinations, car bombs and the suicide bombing that targeted a tourist bus in South Sinai, which the group claimed was part of an “economic war” against the Egyptian authorities that aimed at harming the tourism industry.
“North Sinai is now in a state of cautious alert, while people are waiting to see the impact of the state of emergency imposed on the peninsula,” Secretary General of the Nasserist Al-Karama Party Khalid Arafat said.
“We fully support the armed forces….but we don’t see the security forces performing the same way it is promoted by the media,” he said.
Last week, amidst student protests over increased security measure on campuses, a bomb exploded outside Cairo University, injuring at least 10 people. The Cairo-based militant group Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility, stating that it infiltrated the police and was thus able “to direct the bomb to explode amongst them”. The group also claimed it was “careful to reduce the strength of the bomb so that its fragments do not reach passer-bys”.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned Friday’s attacks in Sinai and called for “immediate actions to apprehend the perpetrators”. The group said that the military “must withdraw [from] politics [and] do its job protecting the nation”. While the Brotherhood has consistently denied any link to violent attacks anywhere in Egypt, the security apparatus has frequently claimed the opposite.
Proposed anti-terror legislation was referred back to the cabinet for further consideration in April this year amid widespread concern for what rights groups called a “blatant assault” on the 2014 constitution and international conventions Egypt has ratified. The groups also condemned the draft for “robbing” defendants of legal procedural guarantees pledged by the law in cases relating to terrorism.
The draft legislation granted greater power to authorities to implement exceptional measures including arrests, evacuation orders and enforcing a curfew, the latter of which has been implemented in parts of North Sinai for three months in response to Friday’s attacks.
The international community has expressed strong condemnation and solidarity with Egypt following the deadly attacks in Sinai. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences to the families of the dead and the government of Egypt. The Arab League also expressed support for Egypt in its war against terrorism.
“We call on the international community to prop up Egypt’s efforts for combating this criminal phenomenon whose impact we see in different parts of the Arab world,” said Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby.
The United States, United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates each offered their continued support for Egypt’s efforts to “counter the threat of terrorism”.
UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said late on Friday that his country “stand[s] with the Egyptian government in their fight against terrorism”. He added that he will discuss “practical cooperation to tackle terrorism” when he meets Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in London on Monday.
The UAE foreign ministry described the attack as a “cowardly act and heinous crime”, adding that it “contravenes all national and religious values and principles and only seeks to trigger chaos and spread destruction”. The Gulf nation also expressed its “full support” for Egypt’s armed forces. The UAE stressed that such an attack emphasises the need for international and regional efforts “to confront the menace of terrorism”.
US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki pledged her country’s continued support for Egypt’s counter-terrorism efforts “as part of our commitment to the strategic partnership”. She stressed: “A prosperous and dynamic Egypt requires an environment of security and stability”.
Egypt is awaiting the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters as part of the US’ assistance for Egypt’s counterinsurgency efforts in the volatile Sinai Peninsula.
Additional reporting by Adham Youssef