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Egypt: From military-insurgents confrontation, Sinai conflict shifts to civil war

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The North Africa Journal – May 17, 2017: The crisis in the Sinai Peninsula is now spreading both geographically and in terms of its scope. Analysts at MEA Risk LLC say that while the conflict has been concentrating on the northeast corner of the region, specifically focusing on the towns of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah and Al-Arish, there has been growing militant and anti-militant activity in the central Sinai region, stretching all the way to Western Egypt along with the Libya border.  The Egyptian government has been working to contain the crisis to North Sinai, but it now is facing a militant expansion to the southern and western regions.

More alarmingly is the fact that what used to be a military-insurgent conflict, the militants have been focusing their efforts on involving the civilians and local populations in an effort to further destabilize Egypt.  The first to have been targeted were the Christian minority in North Sinai, whose members have been killed and harassed, forcing hundreds to flee and seek refuge elsewhere in Egypt.

Another worrisome trend has been the escalating conflict between the Islamic State and local tribes.  On May 10, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM- Islamic State in Egypt) ambushed men from the Tarabin tribe who were securing facilities in southern Rafah, killing 10 of them.  The killing was performed under the pretext that the Tarabins have been helping the Egyptian military. But there is a clear effort to expand the conflict and turn it into a much-more-difficult to control civil war.

On May 12, the Tarabins in Rafah attacked two ABM positions in south of Rafah, killing 10, including an insurgent leader, Mahmood Nimr Zaghra.  There have been several similar incidents, as direct confrontations between IS and tribesmen have been escalating ever since the Tarabins pledged allegiance to the Egyptian military. The Tarabins are now pressuring other tribes to join the fight, and so we expect growing insecurity in Sinai going forward.

Meanwhile, ABM continues on its campaign against the military. On May 13, a military vehicle struck a landmine in central Sinai, killing one and injuring three others. And in the following day (May 14), two army officers were killed and five soldiers injured in another militant attack in Sheikh Zuweid.

The North Africa Journal is a leading English-language publication focused on North Africa. The Journal covers primarily the Maghreb region and expands its general coverage to the Sahel, Egypt, and beyond, when events in those regions affect the broader North Africa geography. The Journal does not have any affiliation with any institution and has been independent since its founding in 1996. Our position is to always bring our best analysis of events affecting the region, and remain as neutral as humanly possible. Our coverage is not limited to one single topic, but ranges from economic and political affairs, to security, defense, social and environmental issues. We rely on our full staff analysts and editors to bring you best-in-class analysis. We also work with sister company MEA Risk LLC, to leverage the presence on the ground of a solid network of contributors and experts. Information on MEA Risk can be found at