The residents of the Sinai, the desert peninsula bordering Israel, have long complained that the Egyptian police have applied abusive tactics like arbitrary or mass arrests here. Now, the Sinai is the center of an extremist campaign of bombings and assassinations targeting the military and the police. When the military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer, the peninsula exploded in violence. The security forces have responded with a widespread crackdown.
The destruction of towns across the North Sinai tells the story the crackdown. The residents of the neighborhoods that have been targeted tell stories of children fleeing into the desert or being wounded by shrapnel. Warplanes and helicopters have swooped down and dropped bombs on the area.
More than eight months ago, Shadi Meneayi left his hometown to help lead a campaign of terrorist attacks against Egypt’s military-led government. His hometown has paid a heavy price in the interim. In the eight-month-old battle to crush the militants, half the homes in the neighborhood have been reduced to rubble. So far, the military has bombed and destroyed Mr. Meneayi’s former home, his family’s house down the hill, then a new home his brothers were building to replace it and a hut they constructed as temporary shelter.
Residents who originally supported the military takeover complain that they feel caught in the crossfire. Abdel Aziz Yousef said, “The military is killing innocent civilians, not fighting armed terrorists.” Mr. Yousef continued, “If you want to liberate Sinai from terrorism, don’t take the good ones with the bad ones,” because each innocent you kill “will create 50 terrorists.” His brother Mohamed was killed earlier this month by a nervous soldier at a checkpoint.
Military officials have claimed that they are being as careful as they can about the safety of their troops and innocent civilians. One senior military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “But the terrorists are hiding among the people, and you don’t know who is who sometimes. That is why they should notify the police if they have terrorists among them, and expel the terrorists.”