The funeral procession honoring the 16 victims of a terrorist attack on an Egyptian border checkpoint this week was a turning point for the Egyptian people. Television commentators went on and on about the heroic new shahids (martyrs), laid out in coffins wrapped with Egyptian flags. Throngs of people accompanied the victims' coffins on their final journey from Al-Rashdan mosque, through the Unknown Soldier Memorial, to their final resting place. The ceremonial procession, which featured countless Egyptian flags — but no Islamist flags — was led by the victims' families, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, other government ministers, public figures and sheikhs. Only Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was conspicuously absent from the funerals. His security team was concerned for his safety following attacks on Kandil's vehicle by protesters. Let us recall that during his swearing-in ceremony, Morsi bared his chest and defiantly declared that he did not need to wear a flak jacket. In failing to show up to the funerals, Morsi elicited dismissive criticism from his opponents.
Despite the raw emotions and the displays of rage, this was a sensitive, stately funeral procession, unlike any of the agitated horror shows staged by Egyptian crowds in the town squares.
Listening to spokespersons and media commentators describe the event, it was very evident that something had changed. After all, throughout Egypt's history, the country's army has sustained losses far worse than this one, but this was a unifying national event that brought people together, reflecting a tremendous emotional burden. It was evident in the eulogies, in the vows of revenge, and in the style the commentators used to describe the funerals and the circumstances of the terrorist attack. The saintly status of the fighters who gave their lives to protect their country was given a lot of emphasis, as was the place in heaven reserved for them.
Special attention was paid on the fact that the Egyptian soldiers had been killed specifically as they sat down to break the Ramadan fast. The month of Ramadan is considered to be a holy month during which Muslims are not allowed to engage in battle. The climax of this religious drama was when the victims were described as having been trained by their commanders, namely Tantawi himself, to risk their lives fighting enemies on the front lines, but not to be killed at home by their brothers' swords stabbing them in the back — a treacherous Islamic sword.
Rallying public opinion
The deaths of the Egyptian soldiers, the funerals and the way the Egyptian media approached the terrorist attack, all prepared the ground for a military operation aimed at eliminating Islamist terror strongholds in Sinai. The Egyptian media reflected the sentiment that the army, which had already gained popularity points thanks to its restraint during the course of the Arab Spring protests, had now regained its position at the heart of the Egyptian consensus following the vicious attack by Islamist extremists on Egyptian soldiers in the city of Rafah.
The army's popularity only soared when faced with criticism over anti-democratic moves directed at Morsi's government. In fact, the latest series of events served to elevate the army in the context of Egyptian unity. The Egyptian people, faced with the intelligence failure that led to the deadly attack, and with the fact that Israel had warned the Egyptian authorities in advance, felt immensely frustrated. But that frustration is slowly beginning to dissipate as reports emerge of the blows that the army is dealing the Islamist terrorists both from the air and on land.
The media made sure to emphasize that despite the varying political views and the disparate social and economic statuses, the Egyptian people were one. The different spokespeople stressed the growing cooperation between Morsi and the army commander on the scene. Since the attack, all the Egyptian analysts that described it have agreed that the radical Islamist groups based in Sinai must be crushed. Before this attack, the kind of operation that the army launched in Sinai would have been impossible.
As expected, the lawless situation in Sinai was explained as a product of the discriminatory and tough attitude that deposed President Hosni Mubarak had taken toward the Sinai Bedouin. Mubarak's treatment of the Bedouin included torture, arrests and unwarranted abuse, which led to radicalization and the accumulation of weapons. It was mentioned further that it was the economic neglect that pushed the Bedouin to align themselves with Islamist terror organizations, motivated by foreign interests, against Egypt.
Egyptian media outlets interviewed excited residents of Sinai earnestly asking the authorities to restore order in the region. It is already obvious that Egyptian authorities will have to improve the quality of the manpower in Sinai. Currently, both the poor residents and the security personnel are vulnerable to recruitment by the various wealthy terror organizations. The power of the material temptations stem from the terrible poverty in the area, the alienation and the low wages paid to soldiers and military officers.
Who is the mastermind?
The harsh words that characterized the hours immediately following the deadly confrontation between soldiers and terrorists slowly dissipated. The waves of typically vicious accusations characterized, as usual, by the Islamist rhetoric coming from Morsi's movement — the Muslim Brotherhood — have continued, but have been reduced.
Already, there is growing fury and frustration over the Egyptian authorities' colossal intelligence and operational oversight. The anger is only intensifying as more details emerge from the attack, and more testimonies indicate involvement of Islamist terrorists from Gaza. As the bodies of the attackers are uncovered as well as their identities, the evidence suggests that radical Islamists and Sinai based groups were manipulated like marionettes, or cultivated like protégés, by Hamas.
The media commentators kept asking again and again, in shock, why the Egyptian soldiers had been targeted precisely during the breaking of the Ramadan fast; the questions reverberated over and over asking which country had orchestrated the attack; what was the agenda that prompted Islamist terrorists to kill Egyptian soldiers, commandeer military vehicles and attack Israel across the border in such a treacherous manner. Other questions were directed at the international forces deployed in Sinai — what is their true purpose? Are they doing their jobs properly?
The Egyptian media began collecting testimonies regarding the early warnings Israel issued: on the frustrating absence of Egyptian defense mechanisms; on the mortar fire targeting the Egyptian checkpoint prior to the attack coming from the Gaza side of Rafah — meant to provide backup to the terrorists coming into the checkpoint from the other side of the fence; on the movement of terrorists via underground tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Egypt as they were planning the attack. According to the various commentators' analyses, it is very clear that the timing, the location and the modus operandi of the attack were designed to draw Egypt into a conflict with Israel. The question is: Who is the mastermind?
Where is Egypt headed?
An Islamist Egypt is vulnerable to extensive weapons trafficking from within its territory to its neighbors. At any minute, another Khalid Islambouli (a radical Egyptian army officer who planned and participated in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981) could pop up and burn the house down from within. In light of the unstable economic and political arenas, especially following the attack, Morsi is now faced with a difficult dilemma.
Those who share Morsi's ideology, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the more extreme Salafi movement, expect his highness to implement the very ideology they have all been taught in that radical hothouse of theirs. Much to their embarrassment, it was the same Muslim ideology that motivated the terrorists who perpetrated this attack.
Hamas members were also pleased to see Morsi assume the presidency of Egypt, and to them, the vision of a liberated Palestine seems closer than ever. But the reality that has emerged indicates that there is an enormous gap between their vision and what is really happening, and this is a huge threat to Hamas. Egypt is dependent on America for funding and supplies, as well as Saudi aid. Egypt's diplomatic and security stability is a prerequisite for any economic advancement or foreign investment. So, from a geo-strategic perspective, Egypt's security is existentially linked to a Western agenda, dictated first and foremost by the U.S. The American agenda reflects that of most Western nations, including Israel and Turkey as well as the Sunni Arab nations in the Middle East. This Western coalition was formed mainly as a response to the Shiite coalition it opposes, which includes Iran — as it pursues nuclear weapons and eyes Arab oil and territory — Iraq, Syria and the Hezbollah satellite terror entity, all under a Chinese-Russian umbrella.
In this Cold War-style situation, Israel serves a key role. Morsi, almost against his will, has to choose the Egyptians' best interests and take action to combat Islamist terror, because he cannot support terrorist organizations that target the American coalition and its allies. Now that the Islamist terrorists have targeted Egypt itself, it will be easier for him to promote anti-terror policies both against Hamas and against the other terrorist organizations operating in Sinai under the auspices of Iran. Morsi can now do it under the guise of preserving Egyptian security without being suspected of cooperating with the enemy or being an "agent of American and Zionist imperialism."
The Hamas circus
The terror leadership of the "polite" Hamas rushed frantically to deny any involvement in the deadly incident: Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh convened a security coordination meeting between the Egyptian government and the Gaza leadership, and declared a halt to tunnel smuggling. All the signs indicated that Egyptian security officials were not going for the usual Hamas method of excuses — laying the blame on other Islamist front organizations (cultivated by Hamas) and distancing themselves from the said group despite the contact they maintain after attacks. This loathsome method is not even seen as a joke by the Egyptian intelligence establishment.
Following the attack, Haniyeh led an emotional solidarity demonstration in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Gaza. The threatening voices coming out of Egypt, however, have begun communicating to Hamas that it has been deluding itself into thinking that it could toy with Egypt's fate while advancing the narrow interests of the insolent Gaza group.
With overt criticism, Egyptian media spokespeople declared defiantly that it was unthinkable, within the framework of diplomacy, that a neighboring entity like the Gaza Strip, even if it is not a formal state, would maintain "criminal" relationships at the expense of its neighbor Egypt. It was unthinkable that Gaza would export terror into Egypt through underground tunnels full of guns, drugs and contraband, thus jeopardizing the public security of the nation.
The Egyptian media blamed the de facto Hamas government and insisted that Hamas knew of the terrorists' plans and did not warn Egyptian authorities. This stance assumes that the organization that rules the Gaza Strip is also responsible for what happens in its territory, and everything that comes out of it. These media spokespeople demanded that the Egyptian army obliterate the smuggling tunnels and institute instead above ground border crossings, under strict Egyptian supervision.
The "Israeli enemy"
Egyptian television conducted a marathon of interviews with scientists, military men and social experts. The editor of The Seventh Day newspaper in Egypt voiced deep dissatisfaction over the fact that a military analyst from the ranks of the "Israeli enemy" appeared on one of the television networks and spoke about the attack. "Who can you make peace with if not the enemy," innocently argued another interviewee, who was asked about how the attack would affect Israeli-Egyptian relations. "Israel is the enemy, but we will now have to make changes and renegotiate the peace treaty that Egypt signed with Israel at Camp David, while simultaneously bolstering cooperation on the security front," he added.
Despite all that, Israel was portrayed by the Egyptian media as a legitimate partner for a peace agreement. The Camp David Accords were presented as a product of a partnership that, though signed grudgingly, must be honored.
Most of the speakers in the media argued that the agreements in the treaty regarding the deployment of troops were mainly in favor of Israel, but that the necessary change in Sinai deployment, as well as the deployment in facing Gaza, must be done with Israel's blessing.
The Egyptians are taking the new reality very seriously. The media has been reporting air patrols and deployments coordinated with Israel. The Rafah checkpoint has been closed until further notice, and the Egyptian investigation of the incident revealed that the bodies of several of the terrorists showed them to be Gazans. Hamas is in for quite a few surprises along the route of the burned armored vehicle that the terrorists commandeered, deep into the terror tunnels.