With the ongoing developments in Sinai this year, there have been 16 reports released by 7 think tanks in 2018. Examples of these prominent think tanks reporting on Sinai include the Human Rights Watch, The Jamestown Foundation for Global Research and Analysis, Egyptian Institute for Studies, Carnegie Endowment and AlJazeera Centre for Studies. The Egyptian Institute for Studies has led the various think tanks with 5 reports in 2018. Egypt’s involvement in Sinai consisted of military-enforced security in an effort to combat claims of terrorist threats. Consequently, major human rights concerns have been raised from Egypt’s fight on terrorism in the Sinai region.
Egypt launched their military campaign known as ‘Operation Sinai’ on February 9 after a series of high-profile attacks including the killing of 305 worshipers by Wilat Sinai on November 2017. (1) The need for Egypt to strengthen security and counter-terrorism responses has been due to the rise of political violence since the military coup in 2013. Since then 3,500 soldiers and over 700 civilians have been killed by attacks and explosions. (2)
Sisi has stated that due to the threat of Sinai being a safe haven for terrorists he is forced to react strongly. Although some Egyptians have supported this decision, critics suggest that Sisi has launched this operation as a distraction against the growing social and economic hardships Egyptians are being subjected to under his presidency. (2) Nonetheless, the decline of the Islamic State has meant its need to relocate. With the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis already based in the Sinai, its allegiance to the Islamic State has turned this franchise to success notably by conducting the largest attack in Egypt’s history killing 305 worshipers, assassinating the country’s top prosecutor and blowing up a Russian passenger jet killing all 224 passengers. (3) This local affiliate (also known as ‘Sinai Province’) of the Islamic State released a 23-minute video addressing various topics such as jihad and democracy days after the operation was announced. (4)
Egypt’s military has been active in Sinai as reported by the Egyptian Army. To illustrate, one of the reports coming after 6 months from the launch of the operation has showcased military losses of both the militants and the Army and Police. (5) (6) (7) The most up to date developments of Operation Sinai were announced on October 25, by Egypt’s military spokesperson, Tamer al-Refai: “Since embarking on the comprehensive campaign, the military killed 450 militants, foiled 1,200 explosive charges, and destroyed 900 vehicles used by militants. Also, the military arrested 4,000 militants and demolished 3,000 tunnels on the Egyptian borders.” (8) Although significant developments have been made by Egypt’s military, the consequences of such operation have led to a humanitarian crisis in Sinai.
The human rights abuses in Sinai are directly linked to ‘Operation Sinai’. For example, the military blockade and restrictions of the movement of peoples and goods have seen a stoppage of essential needs for the Sinai population (9). In addition, the Egyptian military has forcefully destroyed many homes and buildings. According to local residents, Human Rights Watch has reported that “the demolitions and forced evictions, without judicial oversight and with little or no assistance offered for temporary housing, have exacerbated the negative humanitarian impact caused by army-imposed restrictions on residents of the area.” (10) Such demolitions of homes and buildings have been captured by satellite imagery. (10)
Despite the operation, the Egyptian government has made unsuccessful development plans in Sinai. In February 2018, Sisi came up with a ‘comprehensive plan’ for the development of the region. However major issues have been noted such as the burden this will cost the private sector and a lack of clear economic and social plans. (11)
Since 2015, there have been a total of 50 reports published by 14 think tanks on Sinai. The top publishing think tank on Sinai was ‘The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy’ – 10 reports. Some think tanks have stopped publishing on Sinai. To illustrate, ‘The Institute for National Security Studies’ published 8 reports since 2015 with none coming in 2018. Considerably, there has been a decline in reports on Sinai in 2018. By comparison, there were 20 reports published by think tanks about Sinai in 2017 (6 more than in 2018) mostly due to the horrendous attack on the al-Rawda mosque. This diminution of reports can be attributed to the lack of media and the imposition of the Egyptian military presence in this area. According to Human Rights Watch, “the authorities prohibit independent reporting from the affected areas.” Although the military has provided updates on its operations in the region, “the near-absolute government-imposed blackout on independent media in North Sinai since late 2013 has continued.” (9)
There have been consistent themes and trends surrounding Sinai from 2017 to 2018. Many think tanks have and continue to report on security, military, counter-terrorism, Islamic movements and institutions, and human rights issues. Notably, the horrific attack on the al-Rawda mosque in 2017 painted a clear picture of the threat of terrorism. As a result, the Egyptian government decided to take strong military measures to enhance their security by launching ‘Operation Sinai 2018’. The consequences of this incident have also led to human rights issues. From the heavy civilian death toll committed by Wilayat Sinai (or ‘Sinai Province’) to the actions of the Egyptian military such as extrajudicial killings reported in 2017 and home demolitions in 2018, the struggles for those living in this region continue to persist. Hence, the trends and themes seen in 2017 have spilled over to 2018 where Egypt’s military is heavily present in Sinai.