Sleepless in Sinai
Arabic media review

Sleepless in Sinai

Arab daily criticizes Egypt for shutting the Rafah crossing, punishing Palestinians for a crime they didn't commit

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hamas security forces stand guard at the closed gate of the Rafah crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2013. (Photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Hamas security forces stand guard at the closed gate of the Rafah crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2013. (Photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The fate of seven Egyptian soldiers abducted last week in northern Sinai takes center stage in Arab media Sunday, as the central government in Cairo mulls an attack on the kidnappers.

“The Egyptian army requests a ‘green light’ from the president to decide the abductee issue,” reads the main headline in the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Quoting “sources in the president’s office,” the daily reports that the Egyptian military has sought permission from President Mohammed Morsi to stage a military operation against the kidnappers on Sunday, following two days of failed negotiations.

Seven soldiers were abducted last week, and their captors demand the release of their relatives imprisoned in Cairo on criminal charges.

The sources tell the paper that Morsi still favors a negotiated solution for fear of “bloodshed” the consequences of which “cannot be easily predicted.”

The London-based daily Al-Hayat depicts the conflict between Morsi and his top security brass in full relief. “Discrepancy between security and presidency on the soldier crisis,” reads the daily’s headline.

“While the army and police forces assembled in northern Sinai have shown their readiness to release the soldiers by force, it seems that the government prefers to continue negotiating” despite having previously refused to oblige the kidnappers’ demand to release jihadist prisoners, the paper reported. 

Special forces have arrived in the Egyptian cities of El-Arish and Rafah, with armored vehicles deployed along the main roads in an apparent bid to intimidate the kidnappers and show them that the military means business, reports Al-Hayat.

According to the staunchly anti-Morsi daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, a “widespread” military operation in northern Sinai is a done deal. “The army prepares to release the soldiers, despite Morsi’s promise to the terrorists,” reads the paper’s headline.

Quoting “well-informed sources,” the daily reports that a widespread military campaign is expected to take place within 48 hours, following the failure of negotiations with the kidnappers.

“What the kidnapped soldier crisis manifestly reflects is the softness of the state, if not its disappearance,” writes Ahmad Darini in an op-ed in the paper.

“It does not seem, to me at least, that President Morsi is worried or especially angry. The man’s words, and his gravitation toward a limp negotiation that has lasted for almost a week, show that he not only sympathizes with the kidnappers but that he probably admires these militias personally. They have succeeded in kidnapping the state’s soldiers and harmed the pride of the military establishment, which began deteriorating in March 2011,” writes Darini.   

Establishment daily Al-Ahram also contributes to the adbuction hype, featuring a photo of two masked commando soldiers awaiting orders to attack. The paper describes the negotiations as a “race against time,” and reports that the governor of northern Sinai, Abdul Fattah Harhour, maintains daily contact with Morsi on the crisis.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi praises the Egyptian government decision to negotiate with the kidnappers, but derides the decision to shut the Rafah border crossing as an “unjustified” punitive measure against the Palestinians.

“What is difficult for us, and many like us, to understand is why angry Egyptian policemen have decided to close the Rafah crossing, the only gateway for two million Palestinians living in Gaza to the outside world,” reads the editorial.

“The kidnappers… are Islamist extremists from Sinai, and the abductees are Egyptian soldiers. What, then, is the fault of the Rafah crossing and the Palestinians stranded on both sides?… they have become hostages of others, paying the price of a kidnapping they had nothing to do with.”    

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