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Sinai Attack Leads to Power Shift in Egypt

Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula from space (NASA photo).

Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula from space (NASA photo).

Islamist President Mohammed Morsi boldly forced out the old military guard in the aftermath of an al-Qaeda–like attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. What does this portend for the future of the Middle East?

The military leaders who have continued to hold power in Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow have now been fired by recently elected President Mohammed Morsi.

The Washington Post reported Aug. 12:

“Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi forced out the country’s two top military chiefs Sunday, in a bold move to wrest power from the armed forces and marginalize key holdovers of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s reign.

“Seizing on a brazen attack last week in north Sinai that killed 16 Egyptian security forces, Morsi on Sunday swore in a new defense minister, who will command the armed forces, and made additional major personnel moves. The president also announced that he had suspended a constitutional amendment the generals passed on the eve of Morsi’s election giving themselves vast powers and weakening the presidency.”

Sinai threats

What happened in the Sinai that led to this? After attacking and killing 16 Egyptian soldiers at an outpost Aug. 5, Islamic militants “commandeered armored Egyptian military vehicles and rammed into an Israeli border crossing,” according to the Washington Post article.

The attack in the Sinai is only the latest in a series of incidents in the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula.

Reuters reported Aug. 13 that the militant groups in Sinai are a growing threat to Israel—and to Egypt itself.

“‘Sinai is ideal and fertile ground for al Qaeda,’ said Khalil al-Anani, a Middle East specialist at Durham University in England. ‘It could become a new front for al Qaeda in the Arab world.’

“Diplomats and analysts say there is no evidence as yet of formal links between al Qaeda and the Sinai militants—made up of Bedouin aggrieved at their treatment by Cairo, Egyptians who escaped prisons during last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinians from neighboring Gaza.

“They blend a toxic mix of smuggling, gun-running and human trafficking with the ‘takfiri’ ideology of al Qaeda—which declares all Muslims who do not follow their purist, Salafist interpretation of Islam as ‘kafirs’—infidels. Crime and religion are soldered by ferocious opposition to Israel.”

But Israel is not the only nation under threat. Egypt itself has much to fear from the militants.

“‘It is much easier for these fundamentalist Bedouin groups inspired by extreme Salafi/Qaeda-like doctrine to attack ships in the Suez Canal than to mount an operation on the Israeli border,’ said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”

Such an attack would have devastating effects on Egypt’s fragile economy. These threats and the anger at the militants for killing Egyptian soldiers contributed to support for a crackdown on the militants in the Sinai. However, the hostile terrain makes hunting them down very difficult.

An excuse?

President Morsi boldly turned the crisis to his advantage. Instead of being blamed for allowing the attack, “he appeared to exploit the Sinai killings to empower his office at the military’s expense” (“Egypt’s Leader Fires Military Chiefs,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 13, 2012).

Though it is difficult to know what has gone on behind the scenes, it appears Mr. Morsi has won this battle with the previously all-powerful military. Mr. Morsi’s spokesman said that the president will keep the top two military leaders as advisers and awarded them the Order of the Nile—the highest state honor. “The arrangement suggests that the men were consulted in advance and had prepared their resignations willingly,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Unexpected

These recent events were unexpected by foreign observers and Egyptians alike.

According to the Washington Post article, “When Morsi, a former political prisoner, took office last month and showed great reverence toward the country’s military chiefs, Egyptians assumed the two sides were striving to strike a power-sharing deal. Many believed that the military, a historically secular institution, would rein in the Brotherhood if it tried to impose more religiously conservative social practices.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta visited Egypt about two weeks ago and said: “It is my view, based on what I have seen, that President Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good relationship and are working together towards the same ends.”

But in the volatile Middle East, the widely accepted often gives way to the unexpected.

After the fact U.S. officials were quick to express confidence that the new Egyptian defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, “will maintain close ties with the U.S., and uphold Egypt’s peace deal with Israel” (“U.S. Greets Egyptian Top General,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 14, 2012).

What will happen next? Will the military play along or seek to retake power? Will the Egyptian judicial system try to halt President Morsi’s power grab? Will the many Egyptians who fear Muslim Brotherhood control protest? Or will the Muslim Brotherhood continue to consolidate their power in Egypt and throughout the Middle East?

Whatever the short-term outcome, the long-term outcome is sure.

Keep watching the Middle East

Bible prophecy centers on the Middle East, including Egypt and Israel, which will be the epicenter of dramatic world events that will lead up to the promised return of Jesus Christ. Read about what the Bible says will happen in the Middle East and how it will affect your life in the section “Middle East in Bible Prophecy.”

Bible prophecy doesn’t clearly supply every detail of future events, but it does give us a framework of future history that can help us to follow Christ’s instructions:

“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

Watching doesn’t provide us with the exact time of Christ’s return—Jesus said we should watch because “you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). But watching world events helps us to not be unaware, but to have the urgency to help proclaim God’s message of hope and to strive to always be personally ready for Christ’s promised return.

Learn more about the purposes of prophecy—the changes it should cause in our lives—in the article “Purpose of Prophecy.”

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter. He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who answer questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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