The Egyptian government has tried to show that its approach to Sinai is not purely military. On 8 November, the armed forces detailed a project to build 100 houses in the Sinai desert. However, the army has more often destroyed homes in Sinai than built them. In 2014 thousands of homes were destroyed to construct a 79-square-kilometre security buffer zone on the border with Gaza that included the North Sinai city of Rafah.

"A self-defeating security plan"

Since February of this year, the army has "vastly expanded" the destruction of homes, commercial buildings and farms in the North Sinai, according to Human Rights Watch. "Turning peopleʹs homes into rubble is part of the same self-defeating security plan that has restricted food and movement to inflict pain on Sinai residents," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Egypt’s bloody year in the Sinai also has implications for Western governments that supply large quantities of arms to Egypt, justified as support for counter-terror operations, particularly in Sinai. Since the Trump administration took office, the U.S. in particular has worked more closely with the Egyptian government, said Issandr al-Amrani, director of the International Crisis Groupʹs North Africa Project. The U.S. has resumed military aid to Egypt and re-started Operation Bright Star, a major joint military training exercise held by the two countries.

"When it comes to relations between Western countries and Egypt, Egypt’s human rights record has been swept aside," al-Amrani told Qantara.de. "Regional stability, countering IS and – in the case of the Europeans – migration, has meant human rights questions are not brought up."

Critics of the Egyptian governmentʹs approach in Sinai say the latest military campaign amounts to doubling down on military force as the answer, a strategy that has failed in the past and one with a high cost in lives.

"How can repeating the same brute force strategy work this time when it hasnʹt before?" said Mohannad Sabry, a Sinai specialist and the author of "Sinai: Egypt’s Linchpin, Gazaʹs Lifeline, Israelʹs Nightmare", a book on the Sinai conflict. "If anything, intensifying conventional military operations is an admission by the Egyptian military that its work over the past five years has yielded nothing," Sabry said.

Most the families of the victims of the Rawdah mosque attack last year have yet to receive the pensions they were promised by the authorities after the massacre, Sabry points out. "Thatʹs a telling example of how the Egyptian regime views any approach other than brute force."

Tom Stevenson

© Qantara.de 2018

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