With all the fears ISIS has generated about the possibility of homegrown terrorism cells sprouting up throughout Western nations, the recent attack in Egypt, which left at least 25 people dead, is a stark reminder that Islamic fundamentalists are a threat in predominantly Muslim countries as well.
Some reports claim the attack was made with a car bomb, while other sources claim an RPG struck a vehicle containing ammunition. No one group has claimed responsibility, but the attack is just the latest in growing unrest in the part of Egypt known as Sinai, which borders Israel and Gaza. Ever since the army ousted Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s Islamist president, violence like this attack has become the norm, especially in the Sinai region. Couple this with a foundering national economy, and you have a portrait of a desperate nation indeed.
While Iraq and Syria fear ISIS, Egypt has had to contend with its own group of insurgents: Ansar Beit al Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem. This group, like ISIS, has decided that the best way to promote their message is to cut off the heads of people they disagree with. With such tactics at work, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that one commander from Ansar has said that the group is taking advice on how to operate more effectively – directly from ISIS themselves.
While violence in the Middle East is probably the oldest news story of all time, what’s more newsworthy is how Egypt is dealing with it.
In fact, the Egyptian President, Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi, considers the attack a threat to the very existence of his nation, saying: “A plot is being woven against all of us. All that is happening has been expected. Egypt is battling a huge war – a battle of existence. We should remain united; one hand, one heart.”
In recognition of this threat, Egypt is taking dramatic steps to protect itself. The country has declared a three-month state of emergency in the Sinai region where the attack occurred. Some might call the move pessimistic; after all, it’s one thing to declare a state of emergency and acknowledge that the situation is getting out of hand – and it’s more or less expected that this will be a temporary thing – but to preemptively give emergency status to an entire quarter of the year? You know things are bad.
For most Americans, our understanding of the unrest in Egypt has largely centered on their “Internet revolution. For others, however – namely, those that have heavily invested in oil futures, for example, might have their eyes trained on Egypt for a different reason: as it stands right now, Egypt is the largest non-OPEC oil producer in the entire continent of Africa. It should come as no surprise, then, that the US is considering intervention. More on that in just a moment.
The fact is, there are far worse signs of continued strife in Egypt, and none of them look like they’ll be course-correcting Egypt’s mounting economic crisis. There has been talk of building a wall along the border between Gaza and Sinai. Such efforts are usually reserved for things like repelling Mongol hordes and maintaining totalitarian halves of cities.
But, since Egyptian authorities believe the terrorist attack likely originated in Gaza, it seems like they’re headed in that direction. And if it’s not a wall, it’ll be something equally intimidating and dedicated solely to making sure the border is less of a sieve. Zvi Mazel, who was the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt for five years, told Fox News that he expects Egypt to take decisive action:
“I’m not sure they are going to build a wall,” he said. “I understand [Egypt] would like to create a buffer zone where there are no houses and no vegetation.”
If not a wall, then just a demilitarized zone where nothing is allowed to live, grow, or exist? That certainly sounds less extreme – until you realize that about 100,000 people currently live where this zone would go. Everyone knows how well things work out when you expel a group of people from their ancestral homes. But this kind of zone is just what you need when you’re trying to contend with things like “terror tunnels.”
If you’re worried about something as pedestrian as Ebola, try worrying about terror tunnels instead. They’re the subterranean means by which experts suspect thousands of terrorists are making their way between the safe haven of Gaza and the war-torn region of Sinai. Egypt has already destroyed 1,800 of the things and is understandably seeking to strengthen its above-ground border as well. The only question left is whether Egypt will even have a border by the time they get any of this in place.
For now? Egypt has the watchful eye of the US. Treasury secretary Jacob Lew has indicated that the United States may provide emergency loans for the embattled nation that would facilitate “sustainable growth of the Egyptian economy and greater economic security.”
There’s little doubt that Egypt is a pivotal nation in the Middle East, and the US is right to be worried about what this perpetual unrest would mean for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, talks of American intervention in the Egyptian economy have been fruitlessly discussed for something like three years now, which is understandable, given our own uncertain economic footing.
As to how much worse things need to get before the rest of the world takes action in Egypt? That remains to be seen.