While Daesh continues to thrive in north Sinai, the Sisi government has waged a far greater war against ordinary Egyptians to snuff out any opposition to its rule.

On July 24, 2013, a few weeks after his coup against a democratically elected government, Abdel Fattah el Sisi asked Egyptians to support him and the military in a ‘war on terror’.

Eight years on and there’s little for the Egyptian military to cheer about. Recently, Daesh released a video of the murder of a local Egyptian Coptic Christian from Bir el Abed, as well as two Arab Bedouin tribesmen. In the video, just before the Daesh militant shoots the Christian man point blank in the head, he issues a warning: “As for you Christians in Egypt, this is the price you are paying for supporting the Egyptian army.”

Before he kills the tribesman, he accuses them of fighting alongside the Egyptian army in the region.

Critics might ask: what happened to Sisi’s ‘war on terror’? How is that one of the largest armies in the Middle East, adorned with high-tech Western military equipment, unable to root out Daesh from the north Sinai?

The reality is that it was Sisi who handed Daesh the keys to the Sinai, so to speak.

No, he didn’t literally or wittingly allow them to become the dominant force in the Sinai, but the very moment he overthrew democracy and the moment he began using scorched earth tactics against non-Daesh ‘insurgents’ in the Sinai, was the very moment he created the logics of dualistic brutality that allows Daesh to thrive.

And they have thrived in the Sinai – carrying out the mass murder of Egyptian Muslims, launching large-scale attacks on the Egyptian military and, just last summer, they were able to seize and occupy villages.  

Sisi typically reacts to this with militarised violence that often means war crimes carried out against civilians, which in turn further entrenches Daesh within the besieged population.

Defending kleptocracy

As always with Egypt, it didn’t have to be this way.

Egypt’s democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi had wanted to address the growing insurgency in the Sinai through his Nahda campaign: an attempt to upgrade Egypt’s most underdeveloped region from the ground up.  

No more would the Bedouins, who face racial discrimination and are treated as non-citizens, be left out of the Egyptian society, employment and the economy. When visiting, of all places, Bir el Abed in October 2012, Morsi addressed Bedouin tribal leaders and boldly proclaimed, “The age of oppression and discrimination has reached an end … Sinai is part of Egypt, and is equal to other parts of Egypt.”

But Morsi was never allowed to put the Nahda into effect, namely because it meant taking power and money away from Egypt’s praetorian kleptocrats and their foreign corporate and state allies around the world.  After a massive media campaign against the president, ‘Operation Eagle’ was launched by the Egyptian military and the Bedouins were once again reduced to the pro-regime media smears of “jihadis and criminals”, all the better to be bombed and assailed by the army.

And this is the real logic behind Sisi’s ‘war on terror’ – an attempt to ensure that the Sinai remains the plaything of Egypt’s parasitic elites and global corporations.

It’s of course absurd to say that none of the pre-Daesh Sinai insurgents were Salafi jihadis, but until 2014 when violence exacerbated, they were little more than a dangerous minority.

And far from ‘protecting Egyptians’, in the rest of Egypt, the logic of Sisi’s ‘war on terror’ is no different.

Many Egyptians reacted to Sisi’s impassioned call for a ‘war on terror’ with gusto, but what they didn’t realise is that they themselves were the main enemies in this war. Part of the reason Daesh in the Sinai continue to thrive is because Sisi has spent most of the last eight years waging a far greater war against ordinary Egyptians – a war that legally defines criticism of him, his regime or the armed forces, whether in newspapers or on social media, as “terrorism” or “supporting terrorist groups.”

To this day, the brutal works of Daesh are blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood to the Egyptian public, while Daesh is conjured up only to appeal to those global forces that justify their own material support for Sisi in terms of ‘counter-terrorism’.

It’s this ‘war on terror’ – which the Egyptian kleptocracy is using to ensure that ordinary Egyptians do not rise up against it as they did on January 25, 2011 – that has seen hundreds of thousands of political opponents put in squalid dungeons and thousands murdered, disappeared and tortured.

This is Sisi’s real ‘war on terror’ and this is what his American and European allies are supporting.

When Sisi met French president Emmanuel Macron last year in Paris, and received the Légion d'honneur, Macron refused to bring up Sisi’s vast human rights violations. Instead, the French leader supported selling weapons to Sisi’s goevernment, as he didn’t want to weaken the tyrant’s “ability to counter-terrorism”.

Similarly, in 2018, Angela Merkel met Sisi in Cairo to strike a racist anti-refugee deal with the dictator, during which she praised him as a “role model of stability” and his “leading role” in combating “terrorism and illegal immigration”.

Don’t think for a moment that Sisi is somehow ‘fleecing’ Europe or the US – they understand perfectly that his ‘war on terror’ is really a smokescreen for his war to defend kleptocracy against freedom in Egypt. They know that their weapons are more likely to be used against a pro-democracy Egyptian than a Salafi jihadi.

Europe not only accepts but actively wants this. Through Sisi’s kleptocratic regime, they can strike deals for him to brutally police the walls of Fortress Europe, exploit Egypt’s resources or sell billions of euros of weapons to him. Democracy in Egypt meant instability and inconvenient things like Morsi taking economic power in Egypt out of the hands of foreign corporations and into the hands of local Egyptians.

Cynics, or some might say conspiracists, suspect that Sisi has more to gain from Daesh’s continued survival in the Sinai than he does from their defeat.

This is the story behind the three Egyptians who were murdered by Daesh – a story of tyranny triumphing over democracy and the world’s complicity with the ascendancy of a tyrant who doesn’t care about Egyptian lives.

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