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Who’s really benefiting from Sinai’s state of emergency?

Terrorists are turning the tables and making the most of curfews and restrictions in North Sinai.
An Egyptian soldier inspects vehicles at a check point in northern Sinai, May 25, 2015. Authorities in the Sinai Peninsula are battling insurgents who support Islamic State, the militant group that has seized parts of Iraq, Syria and Libya. The Sinai conflict, which has has displaced hundreds of Egyptians, is the biggest security challenge for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has promised to deliver stability after four years of turmoil triggered by the 2011 uprising. Picture taken May 25, 2015. REUTERS/

Critics say the continued state of emergency in the Sinai Peninsula, designed to protect citizens from terrorist attacks, has turned into a threat to their lives, as terrorists are taking advantage of the situation.

Moreover, security forces’ misuse of the state of emergency and related curfews has increased people’s hostility against the police and army. Citizens say people are being detained without written arrest warrants.

S.H., a resident of Jura village in North Sinai, spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about the methods terrorists are using to carry out attacks. Restricting citizens’ movements just makes it less complicated for terrorists to set explosives or hit otherwise highly visible targets.

“Terrorist groups are taking advantage of the state of emergency and the fact that there are no citizens in the places they intend to target, which is making their [efforts] to hit their targets easier,” she said.

The original three-month state of emergency was declared in October 2014 and has been extended numerous times since then, restricting residents’ movements and affecting businesses. Critics say the presidential decree issued May 3 to renew the order violates the constitution. Some also question the effectiveness of the order.

“A number of terrorist attacks killing dozens of Egyptian soldiers [have taken] place under the state of emergency,” S.H. said.

The ruling regime is shutting down cellphone communication networks and internet service in areas under the state of emergency, which it says is necessary to impede the increasing number of terrorist attacks against police and military targets.

However, as S.H. noted, “Terrorists do not use cellphones to communicate with each other. They are well aware that they are tracked. Instead, they use walkie-talkies.”

She also said strict curfews sometimes exceed 16 hours a day. She believes Sinai citizens are the ones being harmed the most by the communication restrictions and government-imposed power blackouts. This is while the army turns a deaf ear to the problems caused by the lack of services.

She revealed that terrorists sometimes break into civilian locations and threaten people, telling them not to report the terrorists’ presence. She said terrorists being pursued by security forces sometimes break into citizens’ houses specifically to hide.

Hussam Rifai, a North Sinai parliamentarian and member of the Human Rights Committee, told Al-Monitor that a number of Sinai citizens have been arrested and detained without arrest warrants, causing them to lose their jobs because they did not show up to work.

Rifai spoke of a citizen who was arrested for six months, which caused him to lose his job, as he did not show up to work and, because there was no warrant, he could not prove he had been arrested. After he was released, the man said security forces had not interrogated him about terrorism, but rather asked who he voted for in the presidential elections.

Rifai also questioned the legitimacy of the presidential decree and said the state of emergency keeps being renewed without effective steps being taken to fight terrorism. The government, however, has said the army and police are working to prosecute terrorists and their money suppliers and to protect citizens and property.

Like S.H., Rifai also said terrorists are taking advantage of the curfew to plant explosive devices on the roads, resulting in military casualties. He said that the state of emergency is being applied all over Sinai, although it was declared only in specific areas. “This is an abuse of the state of emergency, and those behind this must stop,” he said.

Some students were arrested and detained for two weeks, causing them to miss their exams, Rifai said. During the extended state of emergency, some people have been detained for almost two years while their families have received no word on their status.

Parliament member Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Human Rights Committee, told Al-Monitor that the committee intends to form a delegation soon to go to Sinai and discuss the problems facing the people there.

A May 24 report by the parliament’s General Committee on the state of emergency said there is a need to provide the citizens of North Sinai with medical care and address the acute shortage of physicians in particular, facilitate the work of ambulances and study the possibility of establishing emergency hospitals in central Sinai.

The committee called for taking the necessary steps to end checkpoint overcrowding and reduce curfew hours on some private roads during Ramadan.

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