Abstract: The Islamic State affiliate Wilayat Sinai has proved to be a determined enemy that is increasingly capable of attacking targets within mainland Egypt. This is despite the fact that in 2013 the Egyptian government launched its largest ongoing military operation in the Sinai since the 1973 war with Israel, against the group. Rather than defeating or even weakening Wilayat Sinai, however, many of the tactics being employed by the Egyptian government risks ensuring that organizations like Wilayat Sinai and more moderate militant groups are able to continue to expand their operations within Egypt.
Egypt-based Islamic State affiliate Wilayat Sinai is one of the most formidable of the Islamic State franchises. Despite the organization’s relatively small size—it is estimated to have fewer than 1,000 operatives—Wilayat Sinai has fought the Egyptian army, one of the region’s more capable armies, to a standstill.1 Egypt has deployed in excess of 20,000 mainline troops to the northern half of the Sinai Peninsula in addition to an equal or larger number of police and paramilitary forces.2 These forces, especially troops from the relatively well-trained Second and Third Field Armies, benefit from dedicated air support and access to a range of sophisticated weapons systems. Yet despite Egypt having launched what is its largest military operation in the Sinai since the 1973 war with Israel, Wilayat Sinai is, as yet, undefeated. In fact, both the tempo and sophistication of its attacks have increased. It launches attacks on soft and hard targets across northern Sinai almost daily.3 Wilayat Sinai has also carried out an attack in southern Sinai, and most significantly, it is increasingly able to operate in mainland Egypt.
On April 9, Wilayat Sinai carried out improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria. The attacks killed 45 people.4 On April 18, the group attacked a guard post near St. Catherine’s Monastery,5 which is visited by thousands of tourists and pilgrims annually, in southern Sinai where Wilayat Sinai had previously struggled to expand its reach.a Most recently, Wilayat Sinai attacked Coptic Christians who were on their way to visit a monastery located in Minya, 150 miles south of Cairo, killing 28.6 These three attacks demonstrate the Islamic State’s two-pronged strategy in Egypt: inflame Muslim-Christian tensions and damage the country’s fragile economy by targeting its already beleaguered tourist industry. In response to the attacks, the Egyptian government, led by President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, declared a new and more sweeping state of emergency that further increases the scope of police detentions, suspends many constitutional rights, and further limits the right to assembly.7 b However, the state of emergency will do little, if anything, to hamper Wilayat Sinai’s growth in Egypt. In fact, the government’s heavy-handed and often punitive tactics in the Sinai particularly are partly responsible for creating an ideal operational environment for groups like Wilayat Sinai.
Instead of reassessing its policies and tactics, the Egyptian government now appears to be doubling-down on what were arguably already dubious approaches to combating insurgents in the Sinai. In April, videos surfaced of what appear to be Egyptian troops summarily executing detainees in the Sinai.8 The release of the videos follows reports by organizations like Human Rights Watch that claim the Egyptian government has detained thousands and “disappeared hundreds.”9 Those detained span the political spectrum and include moderate and radical Islamists, members of labor unions and professional syndicates, and many liberals who supported the 2013 ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.10
Just as Wilayat Sinai is taking its fight across the canal to the mainland, the Egyptian government is increasingly utilizing the counterinsurgent tactics that were once reserved for the Sinai in mainland Egypt.11 Far from effectively combating insurgent groups like Wilayat Sinai, the sort of scorched earth tactics used in the Sinai risks not only aiding Wilayat Sinai, but more worryingly for the security of Egypt, these tactics are creating new operational spaces for a range of emergent insurgent organizations. Some of these emergent groups, like the Hasm Movement,c are far more moderate than the Islamic State and more capable of tapping into growing discontent among the Egyptian population. While formidable, Wilayat Sinai’s extreme views will limit its appeal and ability to put down deep roots in mainland Egypt. This may not be the case for emergent groups who have moderate views and a more discriminate approach to the use of violence. However, these groups will be able to learn from Wilayat Sinai’s experience with fighting the Egyptian army and police forces in the Sinai. The war in the Sinai has clearly demonstrated the very real limitations and vulnerabilities of the Egyptian army and police forces.
Fertile Ground: Insurgency in the Sinai
The Sinai Peninsula has proved to be an ideal operational environment for a determined insurgent group like Wilayat Sinai. There are three primary reasons for this. First, the peninsula is home to a relatively large population, the Bedouin, which has been marginalized and disenfranchised for decades.12 Second, the Sinai’s rugged terrain offers ample cover for hit-and-run attacks and insurgent training, while the lack of roads makes it hard to patrol. Third, dark networks that traffic in everything from arms and drugs to people proliferate in the Sinai.13 Since antiquity, the Sinai has acted as a gateway from Africa to the Levant. While licit overland trade has declined, illicit trade through the Sinai is flourishing.
Wilayat Sinai, known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) before its leadership pledged bay`a to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November 2014, has effectively exploited all of the factors that make the Sinai such a desirable insurgent territory. ABM itself grew out of groups of aggrieved Bedouin and salafi-oriented outsiders who had fled to the Sinai from mainland Egypt. During the revolt that overthrew Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the government lost control of northern Sinai. The area’s police stations and army installations were besieged by angry Bedouin who, in many cases, had been the victims of years of discrimination, arbitrary arrest, and disenfranchisement. The Bedouin are routinely denied Egyptian citizenship, generally prohibited from serving in the military or police forces, and frequently denied claims to ancestral land by the government. During the 2011 revolt, numerous police stations were burned down, their weapons looted, and several hundred—if not several thousand—detainees and prisoners were freed.14 The government slowly reasserted control over northern Sinai and promised residents increased development and attention to local grievances. For the most part, the government has failed to deliver on these promises.
While the coastal regions of southern Sinai have been developed to cater to tourists, the majority of the Sinai remains poor, even by Egyptian standards.15 For decades, the government has failed to develop the area’s infrastructure. Many communities remain without adequate water supplies, medical facilities, or educational access. The reasons for this lack of development stem from an institutional belief on the part of the Egyptian military that the Sinai is a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel, and as such, development is not a sound investment given even the high possibility of renewed war. In addition, the Bedouin are regarded by many in the military as a kind of fifth column.16 While many Bedouin acted as the eyes and ears of Egyptian military intelligence during the Israeli occupation of the Sinai, some Bedouin did cooperate with the Israelis.17
The suspicion with which the Egyptian government regards the Bedouin has contributed to decades of discrimination and disenfranchisement. While only a very small percentage of Bedouin support radical groups like ABM—now Wilayat Sinai—these groups have been able to draw on a large pool of recruits. Most critically, such groups and Wilayat Sinai in particular can depend on the apathy of many of these communities. The Bedouins’ relations with the security services and military are such that most want no involvement with them and are willing to turn a blind eye to insurgent activities in their communities.18 Additionally, Wilayat Sinai has set up an intelligence arm that monitors communities and punishes those it considers to be informants.
Wilayat Sinai Evolves
The Sinai has acted as a kind of laboratory in which Wilayat Sinai has had the operational freedom to practice and perfect its tactics. This includes learning how best to exploit the vulnerabilities of the Egyptian military and security services as well as, and most importantly, how to best navigate the Sinai’s tribal politics.
Navigating the Sinai’s tribal politics was critical to the evolution of ABM and now Wilayat Sinai. Without the support—or at least the acquiescence—of local communities, Wilayat Sinai could not operate as effectively as it does. Most critically, it would find it very difficult to access and benefit from the dark networks (i.e. illegal and covert networks) that proliferate in the Sinai.19 Without access to these networks, it is unlikely that Wilayat Sinai would be able to fund its operations. Nor would it be able to, especially in its early years, acquire needed weapons and materiel.20
The Sinai’s dark networks and tribal politics, particularly in the north, are interwoven and complex. Many of the Bedouin, especially parts of the Sawarka and Tarabin tribes whose traditional territories extend into Gaza and the Negev Desert, have long benefited from the smuggling routes that extend from the Egyptian mainland across the Sinai and into Gaza.21 The Egyptian government’s crackdown on the tunnels that run under the Egyptian border and into Gaza began in earnest in 2013. This was a serious blow to the economy of northern Sinai.22 The amount of goods that were moved via the tunnels into Gaza was estimated to be worth $700 million a year at the peak of the trade.23 In addition to destroying many of the tunnels, the Egyptian government also created a cordon sanitaire along its border with Gaza. The creation of the cordon necessitated the destruction of over 2,000 homes and displaced hundreds of families.24 Most received no compensation for their losses.
The government’s heavy-handed approach along the border further alienated much of a population that already regarded the government with suspicion. ABM capitalized on these feelings of alienation and vulnerability. Much of the leadership and first-generation membership of what came to be ABM and then Wilayat Sinai has been intimately involved with these communities—both Bedouin and non-Bedouin—for years. The Sinai has long acted as a kind of safe haven for moderate and radical Islamists who have run afoul of the Egyptian government. Going back to at least the 1990s, moderate and radical Islamists began moving into northern Sinai’s urban areas following the Egyptian government’s crackdown on radical groups in Upper Egypt. Here, many self-styled clerics, mostly those who adhere to salafism, set themselves up as community leaders. Many of these men acted as judges and ran informal courts where they helped settle civil and tribal disputes.25 Many residents prefer the informal courts to the state courts, which are regarded as corrupt and where it may take years for a judge to rule on a case.
While most of these clerics have nothing to do with Wilayat Sinai or the radical groups that preceded it, some did become members and leaders of armed groups, including Wilayat Sinai. The experience of adjudicating and settling tribal disputes was invaluable for understanding tribal and inter-tribal politics as well as for building trust and abiding relationships with some members of these communities.26
Wilayat Sinai has also built its capacity to plan and carry out ever more complex attacks on both hard and soft targets. This capacity to attack even the most heavily fortified targets was evidenced when on January 29, 2015, when Wilayat Sinai staged a multi-pronged attack on the headquarters of the Army Battalion 101 Headquarters in al-Arish.27 This attack was ABM’s first major attack after its leadership had pledged bay`a to al-Baghdadi. It subsequently began referring to itself as Wilayat Sinai. The attackers used multiple suicide vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (SVBIED) to penetrate what was one of the peninsula’s most secure facilities. At the same time, Wilayat Sinai operatives also launched secondary and diversionary attacks that utilized GRAD rockets, mortars, and RPGs.28 In the same year, Wilayat Sinai also downed an Egyptian Apache helicopter and claimed credit for the October 2015 bombing of the Russian Metrojet airliner that killed all 224 passengers and crew.29 The attack on the airliner has proved to be devastating to Egypt’s already troubled tourism sector. Russia subsequently banned all civilian flights to Egypt.
Wilayat Sinai has also proved adept at maintaining an operational tempo that is marked given the organization’s small size. Since January 2017, Wilayat Sinai has carried out almost daily attacks on military checkpoints, convoys, police stations, and lightly defended military outposts. These attacks generally involve hit-and-run operations carried out by small contingents of fighters armed with small and medium arms such as mortars and RPGs. Wilayat Sinai has also consistently shown that it is able to innovate and circumvent Egyptian countermeasures, especially when it comes to IEDs.30
Egyptian security forces, in particular the Central Security Force (CSF), have been slow to adapt to the threats that Wilayat Sinai poses. Until recently, CSF and police units relied on unarmored light trucks and Jeeps for much of their transportation, even in areas where there are persistent attacks. Wilayat Sinai operatives have made short work of these lightly defended convoys and the equally lightly defended checkpoints that the convoys routinely service. In addition to using unarmored or lightly armored vehicles, the CSF in particular relies heavily on conscripts to fill its ranks. Conscripts are generally poorly treated, trained, and equipped.31 Wilayat Sinai rightly regards them as the “soft underbelly” of the Egyptian forces deployed to the Sinai. The situation has become dire enough for CSF forces to periodically go on strike to protest their treatment.32
In response, the government has tried to make some improvements to its force protection measures. Many of the light trucks and Jeeps have been replaced with lightly armored transport like the UAE-manufactured Panthera armored personnel carrier.33 Some of the armored personnel carriers have been equipped with electronic countermeasures to defeat IEDs. In response to the upgrades, Wilayat Sinai is using shaped charges that are often hard-wired and thus immune to electronic countermeasures. The shaped charges make short work of thin-skinned armored personnel carriers like the Panthera.34 In addition to finding ways to defeat Egyptian countermeasures, Wilayat Sinai, just like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is honing its ability to use off-the-shelf drone technology for surveillance of troop movements, targets, and potential threats. While it has not yet used armed drones like the Islamic State has in Iraq, Wilayat Sinai is aware of both how to arm drones and adapt them for use in various tactical environments. This is due to frequent exchanges of information about tactics and technology within and across the broader Islamic State organization.35
Ideal conditions in the Sinai combined with the flawed tactics employed by the Egyptian government have allowed Wilayat Sinai to become self-healing and highly resilient. Rather than fundamentally reevaluating its approach to counterinsurgency in the Sinai, the Egyptian military in particular seems intent on escalating what can be described as a “scorched earth” policy in northern Sinai.
While bringing in additional troops and upgrading military hardware, the Egyptian military and security services have also intensified their use of dubious tactics. These tactics include collective punishment,36 arbitrary and mass arrests of villagers,37 indefinite detention,38 and as recent video footage may demonstrate, extrajudicial execution of detainees.39
These tactics, which have been in use to varying degrees since el-Sisi took power in 2013, have further alienated large numbers of Bedouin who make up the majority of the population of Sinai.d The support of the Bedouin should be fundamental to any counterinsurgency plan in the Sinai. The Bedouin, more than any other group, possess an intimate and detailed knowledge of the Sinai’s complex physical and cultural geography.
While the vast majority of the residents of Sinai do not support Wilayat Sinai, the government’s frequently punitive tactics and failure to effectively engage with the very population that could most effectively fight Wilayat Sinai mean that the government is regarded with suspicion and anger by many locals. Rather than tapping into the human networks that could curtail Wilayat Sinai’s operational freedom, the Egyptian military and security services treat many Bedouin as collaborators. Examples of this suspicion and the resulting tactical responses abound. For example, when a convoy is struck by an IED or ambushed, the Egyptian military often destroys nearby homes, livestock, and even water wells as a way of punishing residents for not warning the military or security services about the IED or attack. At the same time, when a resident does come forward with information, the resident—and in some cases all the male members of his family under the age of 50—is detained for “security screenings.”40
The mountains, deep canyons, and deserts of the Sinai are sparsely populated, and most of the Sinai is still without roads, making the terrain ideal for a group like Wilayat Sinai. When under pressure, its operatives simply disappear into the vastness of the peninsula’s mountains, canyons, caves, and deserts. In northern Sinai where it is most active, Wilayat Sinai operatives routinely launch hit-and-run attacks on targets in the urban areas of al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid, and Hasna. The fighters then retreat into the mountains of Jabal Halal, located south of al-Arish and east of Hasna.41 These mountains are riddled with caves and are home to nomadic herders from the Sawarka and Tarabin tribes. In remote areas like Jabal Halal, the cooperation of locals is critical to combating insurgents. The Bedouin are aware what is going on in their territories and are famous for their ability to relay information quickly, something early travelers to the Sinai dubbed the Bedouin telegraph.
Wilayat Sinai’s ability to appear, attack, and then, seemingly at will, disappear has induced a kind of paranoia among the rank and file of Egypt’s army and particularly among CSF forces and police units. When out on patrol or when manning checkpoints, the default assumption of many officers and non-commissioned officers is that everyone in rural areas and increasingly in urban areas of the Sinai sympathizes with the Islamic State until proven otherwise. The paranoia and the reactive tactics it induces has set in motion a self-fulfilling cycle: the more individuals the military and police detain—or in some cases kill—the easier it is for the Islamic State to recruit and to maintain its operational security.42
According to recent reports in the Egyptian media,e parts of the Tarabin and Sawarka tribes have aligned themselves with the Egyptian government in its fight against Wilayat Sinai. Reports have gone so far as to suggest that tribal leaders have “declared war on IS [the Islamic State].” These reports should be treated with caution.43 Wilayat Sinai is keenly aware of the fact that without at least limited local support, its ability to operate as an effective insurgent organization would be greatly limited. Wilayat Sinai, much like al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, has gone to some lengths to cultivate relationships with north Sinai’s tribes.44 These relationships lack breadth, but they do run deep with certain tribal elements. Wilayat Sinai’s leadership is aware of the need to remain above and outside of tribal disputes, which in the case of the Tarabin and Sawarka often involve clashes over smuggling routes.f While only a minority of the members of these two tribes are involved in smuggling, this minority is of particular interest to Wilayat Sinai because of its involvement in dark networks, which are supremely useful to the organization.
Egyptian media reports about tribesmen wanting to fight alongside Egyptian forces against the Islamic State likely indicate the Egyptian government’s frustration with its war in the Sinai. The creation and arming of tribal militias in the Sinai would be something of a last ditch effort to try to roll back Wilayat Sinai’s influence. The policy, if it is indeed being implemented, is fraught with risks. Wilayat Sinai has developed an impressive human intelligence capability that will allow it to penetrate the militias and quite possibly co-opt some of what is likely to be a fluid membership.45 There is also the real risk that many of the armaments provided to the militias will be sold on to the black market and that the militias will be more interested in settling old feuds than fighting Wilayat Sinai. For its part, Wilayat Sinai has released a statement, which is as yet unverified, declaring that it has no interest in fighting with the Tarabin and is only interested in targeting the Egyptian government and those who collaborate with it.46
Given the widespread suspicion and, in some cases, intense dislike of the Egyptian government by a significant percentage of the population of northern Sinai, the creation and arming of militias is a high-risk strategy especially when combined with punitive tactics. Rather than evaluating its policies in the Sinai in light of Wilayat Sinai’s unabated growth, the government of el-Sisi seems intent on intensifying its punitive approach to counterinsurgency in the Sinai and, of most concern, is increasingly employing these tactics in mainland Egypt.
Crossing the Canal and Threat Proliferation
There are indications that the tactics employed by the government in Sinai are being used by the security services in mainland Egypt. Following the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian authorities began a wide-ranging crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. While initial efforts were focused on the Brotherhood, in the months and years after el-Sisi’s rise to power, Egyptian security services have detained and arrested members of numerous groups deemed to be a threat to or even just critical of the Egyptian government.47
In a policy that mirrors that used in the Sinai, Egyptian authorities frequently arrest the male members of the families of those that they detain. The government refers to these arrests as “security screenings.” Yet, many of those arrested disappear for months or even years.48 Police stations are commonly referred to as “homes for the living dead” because many of those who are taken there are never seen again.49 These kinds of tactics are becoming more common.
Using such tactics in the Sinai is problematic enough, but employing them in Egypt’s densely populated Nile Valley is far more dangerous for the government. The government’s approach to terrorism—which it defines broadly—is creating an abundance of new opportunities for a range of insurgent and terrorist organizations.50 Egypt’s 2015 counterterrorism law, referred to as Law No. 8, includes sweeping definitions of terrorism and terrorists.51 The new opportunities being created by the government’s hard-line approach to combating terrorism and opposition groups are being seized upon not only by Wilayat Sinai but also by what can be called nationalist insurgents. These new groups have relatively moderate religious views and a national focus. As such, they may be able to build a broad base of support in Egypt’s densely populated Nile Valley.
Egypt’s various insurgent and terrorist organizations are learning from the military’s and security services’ failures in the Sinai. They are closely examining the tactics that have allowed Wilayat Sinai to expand and remain on the offensive. Additionally, just as Wilayat Sinai has tapped into widespread discontent and anger in the Sinai, a new breed of insurgent organization is hoping to do the same in mainland Egypt. One of these newly formed nationalist insurgent groups, the Hasm Movement, declared itself in July 2016 after an attack on a police officer in Fayoum.52 The Hasm Movement (Hasm can be translated as ‘settling an argument’) has gone on to launch numerous attacks on high-profile state figures, including former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Assistant Attorney General Zakaria Abdul Aziz, and one of the three judges who tried former President Morsi.53 In addition to these attacks, which failed, the Hasm Movement has assassinated numerous mid- and low-ranking police officers.54
The Hasm Movement’s attacks demonstrate a relatively high degree of competency and a disciplined use of violence. The group has released “military communiques” and a well-produced video that show how it is able to track officials and then target them. It has been able to evade Egypt’s formidable layered human intelligence network as shown by the fact that their operatives were able to get as close as they did to high-profile targets like Assistant Attorney General Aziz.55 Figures of importance like Aziz have dedicated security details and are subject to secondary and even tertiary surveillance by other security services.
While the Hasm Movement is a small organization that has neither the size nor the funds to be self-healing in the way that Wilayat Sinai is, it may be the leading edge of a new kind of insurgent group. The group’s military communiques have emphasized its determination to “defend the defenseless” and bring an end to what its communiques describe as a “military dictatorship.”56 The group’s religious views are relatively moderate and do not feature prominently in its communiques or videos. The Hasm Movement has condemned Wilayat Sinai’s attacks on Coptic churches.57 Most interestingly, the Hasm Movement is decidedly nationalist in its focus. The group seems to have no ambitions beyond Egypt.
The Egyptian government has linked the Hasm Movement to the now illegal Muslim Brotherhood. However, it should be noted that the government has also linked the Muslim Brotherhood with the Islamic State and many other insurgent and terrorist organizations active in Egypt. As of yet, none of these groups have openly declared an affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood’s older generation of leaders—those in prison and in exile—have largely eschewed calls for violence.58 The government has presented no proof of the Hasm Movement’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. However, it is likely that it and other groups, like the degraded but still active Lewaa Thaura,g do include former members of the organization.
While the Egyptian security services will likely disrupt and destroy the Hasm Movement before it has a chance to expand, the group and those like it are worthy of particular attention. The el-Sisi government’s tactics in the Sinai and particularly in mainland Egypt have created new spaces in which relatively moderate groups, like the Hasm Movement, with a national focus can thrive. Wilayat Sinai’s extreme views and its indiscriminate use of violence will limit its ability to build the kind of support that it requires to expand in mainland Egypt. This may not be the case with more moderate groups that can tap into growing discontent with a government that is increasingly reliant on violence to assert its authority.
The insurgency in the Sinai began as a localized conflict with very particular grievances. However, the insurgency has become a brutal war that threatens to spread well beyond the Sinai. When he was Morsi’s defense minister, el-Sisi warned the Egyptian army that it must tread carefully in the Sinai.59 If it did not, it risked creating more enemies of the civilians it was supposed to protect. Unfortunately, as president, el-Sisi has not followed his own advice. If such a thing as a successful counterinsurgency strategy exists, engagement with the indigenous population must be at its very core.60 In his timeless book on guerrilla warfare, War of the Flea, author Robert Taber argues that the guerrilla’s—or the insurgent’s—chief weapon is his relationship with the community.61 Likewise, the same principle applies to the relationship between the government and its citizens. This is particularly the case among those communities that are most vulnerable to being co-opted by insurgent organizations. Even superior armies will find it difficult or impossible to prevail over irregular forces if they do not have at least the tacit support of local communities. However, rather than stepping back and reevaluating its approach to the war in the Sinai, the Egyptian government looks set to intensify the punitive tactics that have cost it the critical support of local communities.
Such an approach will do little to ensure stability in Egypt. In fact, tactics such as collective punishment and extrajudicial detention will likely provide groups like Wilayat Sinai and the Hasm Movement with more recruits and more opportunities to expand across Egypt. These tactics, combined with a moribund economy and startlingly high youth unemployment, risk setting in motion a cycle whereby Egypt’s creeping insurgency provokes ever-more punitive responses by the government that insurgent groups will in turn feed on. At the same time, an ever-more complex insurgent landscape will further imperil Egypt’s fragile economy and curtail the government’s ability to tackle the long-term structural issues that must be addressed if Egypt is to prosper. CTC
Michael Horton is a senior analyst for Arabian affairs at The Jamestown Foundation. He has completed numerous in-depth, field-based studies in Egypt, Yemen, and Somalia on topics ranging from prison radicalization to insurgent tactics, techniques, and procedures.
[a] Wilayat Sinai has found operating in southern Sinai more difficult due to several factors. Two of the primary restraining factors are one, the Bedouin who inhabit southern Sinai have not been exposed to the same level of salafi proselytization as their brethren in the north and two, the dark networks that abound in the north are not as dense and active in the south.
[b] Egypt has a long and complex history of declaring “states of emergency.” In 1958, the martial law that had been upheld during the 1952 revolution was changed to a “state of emergency.” This state of emergency was finally allowed to lapse in 2012. After the 2013 coup against Morsi, another state of emergency was declared, but this was limited in its scope and bound by time and geography. Northern Sinai was already under a state of emergency. See Nathan Brown, “Egypt is in a state of emergency. Here’s what that means for its government,” Washington Post, April 13, 2017.
[c] The Hasm Movement declared its existence in July 2016 when it claimed credit for an attack on a police officer in Fayoum. It has gone on to carry out attacks on a range of targets, from police officers to high-level government officials. Thus far, the organization has limited its attacks to targets that are representative of the Egyptian state. “Non-commissioned police officer dies after sustaining injuries,” Daily News Egypt, July 18, 2016.
[d] Egypt’s Western Desert encompasses an area roughly equal in size to the U.S. state of Texas. The vast and largely barren landscape is sparsely populated with the majority of its inhabitants living around five major oases. Like the Sinai, the Western Desert is the traditional home of Bedouin tribes but are generally better integrated into local economies. While many still face similar issues with gaining title to lands and with being denied citizenship status as those in the Sinai, antipathy toward the government is far less pronounced among the Bedouin of the Western Desert. Despite this, the Western Desert remains fertile ground for Islamic State expansion. Egypt’s 1,100-kilometer border with Libya is largely unguarded. The collapse of the state in Libya and the subsequent outflow of arms and jihadis has had a profound effect on communities in the Western Desert. Like the Sinai, many of those living in the Western Desert have long made a living off of smuggling everything from weapons to people. In the five years since the fall of the Qaddafi regime, the Western Desert has become a critical corridor for the smuggling of weapons and operatives on their way to the Sinai and further afield.
The Islamic State has launched a number of attacks in the Western Desert, the most recent being a January 16, 2017, attack on a checkpoint near Kharga Oasis that killed 10 police officers. “Police officers die in attack in Egypt’s Western Desert,” Al Jazeera, January 16, 2017. There are indications that the Islamic State is attempting to use the same strategy that it has used in the Sinai—an initial focus on soft targets in order to build support and confidence among its operatives. Author interview, Egypt-based analyst and former government official, April-May 2017. In response, the government has increased the number of security forces but has so far taken a softer approach to the desert’s Bedouin tribes. There appears to be an effort to bring more of the Bedouin community onside. The military and security services in the Western Desert have long been dependent on Bedouin guides and trackers, and this long-standing relationship may be having some effect on how those same organizations interact with the tribes.
[e] It should be noted that reporters, Egyptian or otherwise, are not allowed in northern Sinai.
[f] In late April, members of the Tarabin, one of Sinai’s largest Bedouin tribes, engaged in a pitched battle with Islamic State operatives just south of the Egyptian town of Rafah. Members of the Tarabin tribe attacked an Islamic State outpost after the Islamic State kidnapped a member of their tribe. This dispute between the Islamic State and the Tarabin is indicative of how careful the Islamic State has to be if it is to continue to successfully navigate tribal relations in the Sinai. Many members of the Tarabin tribe, whose territory includes part of Egypt’s border with Gaza as well as the Negev Desert in Israel, are deeply involved in the lucrative smuggling routes that cross into Gaza. These same routes are often contested by the Sawarka tribe whose territory abuts that of the Tarabin. It is notable that the Islamic State has managed to benefit from the smuggling routes while not inserting itself into the perennial feuds between the Tarabin and Sawarka. To this end, the Islamic State has attempted with some success to rise above tribal feuds and act as a neutral party that has been called upon in the past to mediate disputes between members of tribes. In the April fight between the Tarabin and the Islamic State, however, a new jihadi group calling itself Rabitah Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jama’a released a statement calling on both parties to cease fighting. See “Sinai-Based Group Seeks to End Dispute Between IS’ Sinai Province and Bedouin Tribe,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 24, 2017. The statement by this al-Qa`ida-linked entity highlights the fact that these insurgent groups recognize the importance of remaining above tribal disputes.
[g] Lewaa Thaura is a small insurgent organization that is notably similar to the Hasm Movement. Its leadership does not subscribe to salafi ideology and has gone to some lengths in its statements to emphasize that it does not and will not target civilians.
 “Wilayat Sinai” profile, Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy, 2017; author interviews, Egypt-based analysts, April 2017.
 “Israelis Question Number of Egyptian Troops in Sinai,” Middle East Monitor, January 12, 2017; Andrew McGregor, “Why are Egypt’s Counter-Terrorism Efforts Failing in the Sinai?” Terrorism Monitor 14:24 (2016).
 Author interview, Egyptian official, April 2017.
 “Palm Sunday terrorist attacks as it happened,” Al-Ahram Online, April 9, 2017.
 “Police targeted near Egypt’s St. Catherine’s Monastery,” Al Jazeera, April 19, 2017.
 Heba Farouk Mahfouz, “Gunmen kill at least 28 Coptic Christians in central Egypt,” Washington Post, May 26, 2017.
 “Egypt Declares State of Emergency after Church Bombings,” Al Jazeera, April 9, 2017.
 “Egypt Video of Extrajudicial Executions Offers Glimpse of Hidden Abuses by Military in North Sinai,” Amnesty International, April 21, 2016; “Army Accused of Extrajudicial Killings in Egypt Video,” Al Jazeera, April 22, 2017.
 “Egypt: Hundred Disappeared and Tortured Amid Wave of Brutal Repression,” Amnesty International, July 13, 2016; Amina Ismail and Declan Walsh, “Hundreds Vanishing in Egypt as Crackdown Widens, Activists Say,” New York Times, January 26, 2016; “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016: Egypt,” United States Department of State, 2016.
 “Egypt’s Political Prisoners,” Human Rights Watch, March 6, 2016; “Egypt World Report 2017,” Human Rights Watch, 2017.
 Author interviews, various Egypt-based journalists and analysts, April-May 2017.
 Akbar Ahmed and Harrison Akins, “No Arab Spring for Egypt’s Bedouin,” Brookings Institution, February 15, 2012; Sarah El-Rashidi, “Egypt’s Sinai Bedouins Cry Out,” Al-Ahram Online, September 29, 2012.
 Michael Horton, “Guns at the Gate: Egyptian Militants in the Sinai,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, April 2015.
 See Mohannad Sabry, Sinai: Egypt’s Lynchpin, Gaza’s Lifeline, Israel’s Nightmare (Cairo, Egypt: The American University of Cairo Press, 2015), pp. 1-30.
 James Melk, “Sinai Bedouin ‘Left out of Region’s Economic Development,’” BBC, November 12, 2012.
 Joseph Hobbs, Bedouin Life in the Egyptian Wilderness (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010).
 See Smadar Lavie, The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mzeina Allegories of Bedouin Identity Under Israeli and Egyptian Rule (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1991).
 Author interview, former Egyptian official, April 2017.
 Emma Graham-Harrison, “How Sinai became a Magnet for Terror,” Guardian, November 8, 2015.
 Michael Horton, “Can the Islamic State Establish a Foothold in Mainland Egypt?” Jamestown Foundation, August 2015.
 Joshua Gleis, “Trafficking and the Role of the Sinai Bedouin,” Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, June 21, 2007.
 Abeer Ayyoub, “Egypt Floods Gaza’s Smuggling Tunnels,” Al-Monitor, February 19, 2013.
 Ben Piven, “Gaza’s Underground: A Vast Tunnel Network that Empowers Hamas,” Al Jazeera, July 23, 2014.
 “Egypt ‘Demolishes Thousands of Homes’ for Sinai Buffer,” BBC, September 22, 2015.
 Mara Revkin, “Sharia Courts of the Sinai,” Foreign Policy, September 20, 2013.
 See Sabry, pp. 109-116.
 “Wilayat Sinai targets Egyptian army stronghold,” Al-Monitor, February 4, 2015.
 See Horton, “Guns at the Gate: Egyptian Militants in the Sinai.”
 “Egypt Conceded Russian Plane Crash could be Criminal Act,” Mada Masr, April 14, 2016; Jonathan Marcus, “Egypt Air Force Helicopter Downing a Major Escalation,” BBC, January 27, 2014.
 Author interview, Egypt-based analyst, April 2017.
 See “The Soldiers: Stories of the Mandatory Conscription in Egypt,” Al Jazeera, December 26, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZHlvHqwcIY.
 “Sinai Security Forces Begin Strike Over Kidnapped Soldiers,” Al-Ahram Online, May 20, 2013.
 Jeremy Binnie, “IDEX 2017: MSPV Confirms Large Egyptian Order,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, February 22, 2017.
 Author interview, former Egyptian official, May 2017.
 Author interview, Egypt-based analyst, April 2017.
 Patrick Kingsley, “Why Egypt’s Mass Evictions in Sinai are a Risky Strategy,” Guardian, November 4, 2014; Ismail Alexandrani, “Sinai: Counterterrorism or Collective Punishment,” Al-Akhba, September 16, 2013.
 See “Egypt: Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai,” Human Rights Watch, February 2005; Akbar Ahmed, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2013), pp. 197-199.
 “Parliament Approves Emergency Law Amendment, Permitting Indefinite Detention,” Mada Masr, April 11, 2017.
 “Egyptian soldiers accused of killing unarmed Sinai men in leaked video,” BBC, April 21, 2017.
 Author interviews, various Egypt-based analysts and journalists, April-May 2017.
 Emad El-Sayed, “Jabal al-Halal: the old stronghold of terrorism,” Daily News Egypt, April 3, 2017.
 Author interview, Egypt-based counterinsurgency expert, April 2017.
 Mohammed El-Said, “After Tribal Clashed, is Sinai Militancy Turning into a Proxy War?” Daily News Egypt, May 20, 2017.
 See Michael Horton, “Fighting the Long War: The Evolution of al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula,” CTC Sentinel 10:1 (2017).
 Author interview, former Egyptian official, April 2017.
 See https://twitter.com/Oded121351/status/865503283363758080.
 “Egypt: Fearing Protests, Police Arrest Hundreds,” Human Rights Watch, April 27, 2017.
 See “Egypt: Events of 2016,” Human Rights Watch.
 Omar Ashour, “Egypt’s Notorious Police Brutality Record,” Al Jazeera, March 28, 2016; author interviews, Egypt-based journalists, March 2016.
 Author interview, Egypt-based expert on terrorist organizations, April 2017.
 See “Egypt’s Anti-Terror Law: A Translation,” Atlantic Council, September 3, 2015.
 “Non-commissioned Police Officer Dies after Sustaining Injuries,” Daily News Egypt, July 18, 2016.
 “Hasam Movement Claims Responsibility for Former Grand Mufti Assassination Attempt,” Aswat Masriya, August 5, 2016.
 For example, see Sudarsan Raghavan, “Explosions kills 6 Egyptian police officers, wounds others in Cairo,” Washington Post, December 9, 2016.
 See “Hasam AKA Arms of Egypt Movement Release First Snuff Film [Video],” Terror Feed, January 11, 2017.
 The Hasm Movement website (https://hasam.org), where it published its communiques, has been removed.
 See Menastream, “#Egypt: Hasam Movement condemns Coptic Church bomb attack in #Cairo, put blame on regime/military & calls for continued resistance,” Twitter, December 11, 2016.
 See George Fahmi, “Why Aren’t More Muslim Bothers Turning to Violence?” Chatham House, April 27, 2017.
 See “Sisi – The security operation in Sinai could lead to a scenario like that of the secession of southern Sudan, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAYAAoBRCgU&app=desktop.
 See Colonel Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency (New York, NY: The New Press, 2013).
 Robert Taber, War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2002), pp. 10-11.