The Egyptian military has credited a tank driver for saving scores of civilians by stopping a car bomb in its tracks on July 25th.
The 4×4 was approaching a checkpoint in the North Sinai region, south of al-Arish when the tank rammed into it. Upon failing to stop, the tank rolled over the car, which exploded moments after. The car contained four gunmen and 100 kilograms of explosives, according to the Egyptian military.
Seven civilians were killed in the attack, including two children. However, official military sources estimated that there were enough explosives to kill up to 50 civilians, had it not been stopped.
Militant activity against the Egyptian forces have been rife in Sinai since Mohammad Morsi, the first democratically elected Egyptian President, was ousted in a coup d’état in 2013, culminating a state of emergency declared in the region in 2014. The state of emergency has yet to be lifted by General-turned-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has argued that the war on terror should include all Islamic extremist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood in which Morsi is a central figure.
The attack has not yet been claimed by a group, but it came quickly in the wake of the deadliest attack in the region since 2014 earlier the month.
Meanwhile, militant activity has been spreading deep in Egypt beyond the peninsula recently. The majority of the attacks in the region have been claimed by IS local affiliate Velayat Sinai’s (formerly Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis or ABM) militant group and have targeted civilians, government forces, and Coptic Christians.
Despite the demise of the IS caliphate, the Sinai branch is proving itself to be resilient. As well, in spite of swift military responses from the Egyptian government, civilians have continued to face the brunt of violence in the region, which is raising questions of the effectiveness of el-Sisi’s strategy to only engage with insurgents on the battlefield.
The link between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ABM is a direct one, Colonel Farouq Hamdan, an aide to former Egyptian Interior Minister, argued in a 2014 statement, claiming the Muslim Brotherhood directly funded the ABM. This, perhaps, sheds some understanding on el-Sisi’s determination to have the Brotherhood declared as a terrorist organization (other than the glaring advantage of delegitimatizing your political opponent as a terrorist organization), as well as why he recently brought up the issue to President Donald Trump earlier this year during his visit to the White House. El-Sisi was the first Arab head of state to visit President Trump, according to African News. Former President Obama refused to extend an invitation during his administration.
Whether or not there is a substantive relationship between the Brotherhood and ABM is beside the point at this juncture in 2017. However, what is true is that these attacks are continuing to cost civilians their lives. As well, el-Sisi’s alleged strategy of silencing political dissidence through imprisonment or other means continues to cause greater grievance in the population, and this grievance, unable to find expression in peaceful political dissent, will become ripe for radicalization and continued violence against the state and its people.
The potential outcome of this narrative is nothing surprising or new, but el-Sisi seems determined to ignore it, despite the recent events that paint it so neatly. With that said, it is clear that the government cannot continue to crush dissent, instead, the only means of effectively preventing it is to address it.