Discord in the desert : Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in the aftermath of the Arab spring : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Defence and Strategic Studies at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
The Sinai Peninsula’s security environment has altered significantly since President Mubarak’s overthrow in January 2011. Though Sinai has a history of militant Islamism, prior to 2011 violence was uncommon and limited in scope. Today, conflict is widespread and described by commentators as an insurgency. Violence has increased in frequency and is qualitatively different. Violence has also spilt beyond Sinai, affecting not just Egypt, but Israel and the wider region.
This thesis maps how the Arab Spring has affected Sinai’s security environment. This is important as continued security deterioration demonstrates that Egypt’s actions there have failed. To explain why, this thesis provides a framework for understanding the security environment’s principal actors: Egypt, Israel, Gaza, militant Islamists and the Bedouin. Mapping Sinai’s security environment explains the nature of post-Mubarak changes and how these actors influenced these changes. The thesis demonstrates that regardless of the government in Cairo, Egypt’s military has controlled Sinai’s security and has viewed it through a solely security-based lens.
To map the causes of these changes this thesis considers three themes. First, it demonstrates how Mubarak-era marginalisation of Sinai’s Bedouin politically, economically and socially has continued following the Arab Spring. Such marginalisation distances the Bedouin from the Egyptian state, and creates an environment susceptible to militant Islamism. Second, the thesis shows that Egyptian-Israeli security cooperation in Sinai has reached its zenith post-Arab Spring, with Israel allowing Egyptian re-militarisation of Sinai to combat militant Islamists. This thesis also argues that any approach that ignores the economic needs of the Bedouin and Gaza’s population will fail, with Bedouin’s reliance on the Egypt-Gaza tunnel trade distancing them economically from the Egyptian authorities. Last, whilst explaining the varied backgrounds of Sinai’s militant Islamists, this thesis demonstrates that the
post-Morsi intensification of violence results from a coalescence of goals between militants and the Bedouin.
Egypt’s current security-centric ‘separate, silence and neutralise’ strategy will not succeed. Whilst requiring military force tailored for counter-insurgency, Egypt’s strategy must include Bedouin economic development that integrates rather than isolates Gaza. Commencing at the governorate level, this must be combined with Bedouin political and social integration within the Egyptian state.