Mourners at funeral of slain Egyptian border police (photo:Gianluigi Guercia /AFP/Getty Images)
The deadly attack on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai last Sunday evening, where masked gunmen in Bedouin clothing killed 16 border guards, hijacked two armored vehicles and attacked an Israeli border post threaten an already tense ‘peace’ along Egypt’s border with Israel and Gaza. But the fallout from the attack is far reaching ripping open a scab of animosity within Egyptian society which was on full display at the funeral for the slain soldiers in Cairo yesterday where blame, anger and grief erupted.
Much of the ill will is directed at Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s dominant political party. Many secular Egyptians and military personnel are suspicious of Morsi’s Islamist leanings and his overtures to Hamas……Morsi surprised Egyptians by not attending the funeral. Morsi’s office said he did not attend because he did not want to present “obstacles” to the public’s mourning.
Supporters of Morsi’s rival in the presidential election, Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander, have called for Egyptians to rise up against the Brotherhood and Morsi on that date.
Such sentiment underscores the divide between Islamists and the military, which still holds enormous political power and has limited the president’s authority.
Talk show host Tawfik Okasha, who has been labeled as Egypt’s Glenn Beck, has endorsed the protests against the Islamists. Okasha and many of his supporters opposed the uprising last year that toppled Hosni Mubarak and his police state.
Like many young activists, Heba Mahfouz Farouk said she was saddened by the unrest around the funeral because the “deaths of the Egyptian soldiers are being politicized.”
Many Egyptians believe the Sinai attack could have been averted by tighter security and better military planning.
“How can people who are supposed to be protecting the borders of a country not be properly trained or equipped with weapons to defend themselves? It’s not clear, something is wrong,” Hussein said.
Like many Egyptians, she hoped that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel would be amended so that more Egyptian troops could be deployed to the region.
The attack comes only a week after Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya made a rare visit to Egypt to meet with Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi to discuss easing travel restrictions on Gaza imposed by Israel’s siege, restrictions respected by Mubarak for years. That meeting, coupled with Morsi meeting both Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian President Abbas in July , resulted in the opening the Rafah border for 12 hrs a day and increasing the daily limit on passengers from Gaza to 1,500.
By opening the border Morsi was following through on a campaign promise he made during the run up to Egypt’s hotly contested election. With the advent of the Arab Spring a number of Egyptian revolutionary groups demanded the complete opening of the Rafah crossing to all forms of traffic, including commercial. During his campaign Morsi stated that “the time has come to open the Rafah crossing to traffic 24 hours a day and all year round.”
Providing only days of relief, once again, Rafah’s border was shut down after Sunday’s attack, which was devastating news to Palestinians.
Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, called the decision “collective punishment.”
Hamas deployed hundreds of policemen along the border with Egypt to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into the Gaza Strip from Sinai, Gamal Jarrah, a top Hamas security commander announced.
He said the Hamas government had also issued orders to close down all the underground tunnels along the border and to do their utmost to help reveal the identity of the attackers.
The Hamas government and some Palestinian groups hinted at Israeli involvement in the attack with the aim of driving a wedge between the Palestinians and Egypt.
Hamas security officials insisted that none of the terrorists who carried out the Sinai attack had come from the Gaza Strip. However, the officials did not say who they believed was behind it.
A spokesman for the Hamas government claimed the attack was an Israeli “attempt to tamper with Egyptian security and drive a wedge between the Egyptians and the residents of the Gaza Strip.”
Tarek Zumar, a spokesman for the group, claimed that Israel was behind all recent terror attacks against the Egyptians “because it wanted to make changes along its border with Egypt.”
The Muslim Brotherhood has blamed Mossad for the attack.
The group said on its website on Monday: “This crime can be attributed to the Mossad, which has been seeking to abort the revolution since its inception and the proof of this is that it gave instructions to its zionist citizens in Sinai to depart immediately a few days ago.”
“(It) also draws our attention to the fact that our forces in Sinai are not enough to protect it and our borders, which makes it imperative to review clauses in the signed agreement between us and the zionist entity,” the group said.
President Mohamed Morsi has pledged to take full control and many feel his ability to secure the Sinai is a test of his credibility. Accordingly, he has already sacked the intelligence chief as well as the governor of Northern Sinai and replaced the commander of the military police. This morning Egyptian aircraft bombed targets near the Rafah border as Egyptians troops raided villages in a crackdown.
The Egyptian military says it has launched missile strikes from helicopters against suspected Islamist militants in the Sinai peninsula.
Military spokesmen said the initial operation had been a “success” and that it was ongoing.
Twenty people were killed in the village of Touma, according to military officials in Sinai, while the Sheikh Zuwaid area to the west was also hit.
The latest army operation came hours after security checkpoints were allegedly attacked by gunmen in the town of al-Arish, leaving a number of people injured.
This is the first time Egypt has fired missiles in Sinai since the 1973 war with Israel, when it attempted to recapture the Sinai peninsula, security officials told Associated Press.
Egyptian military presence in Sinai is limited and requires Israeli approval under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between the nations which returned Sinai to Egyptian control.