One Year On: Security Under Sisi

The security situation in Egypt has shown little signs of improvement since the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. While the army continues to conduct vigorous counter terror operations in Sinai, targeting Egypt’s most active militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the attacks have shown no signs of abating.   In addition to a volatile situation in North Sinai, additional security concerns plague the Egyptian government on its border with Libya. As Libya’s own domestic struggles have left the country in turmoil, the porous Egypt-Libya border has been the sight of weapons smuggling and illegal immigration. Additionally, Egyptian citizens living in Libya have been singled out and targeted by Libyan militias.

With several large scale attacks taking the lives of security personnel since Sisi’s election, civilians are also increasingly caught up in the attacks. Civilian deaths have also taken place in clashes between security forces and protesters. While violence on university campuses has slowed in comparison to the academic year prior to Sisi’s election, the January 25 uprising anniversary was marked by a spike in protester deaths, arrests, and militant attacks. Over fifty people were killed, among them twenty civilians, in the week following the January 25 uprising anniversary. Since then, Egypt has faced near daily attacks.


Gaza Buffer Zone: Efforts to contain the security situation in Sinai have included establishing a buffer zone on the Egypt-Gaza border. Initially planned at 500 meters, Egypt began clearing the area of civilians in October, evacuating families living along the border from their homes before destroying them. The buffer zone has been expanded twice, once in November 2014, and again in May 2015, each time adding another 500 meters, with thousands of homes destroyed. The latest expansion will reportedly result in the evacuation of 10,000 more homes.  

Hamas and Israel: Israel appears to have welcomed Sisi’s presidency and the two governments have reportedly worked closely together against Hamas. Both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Sisi on his election, a move that was not made when Mohamed Morsi was elected. During their calls, they also stressed the importance of bilateral ties between the two countries.

Meanwhile, tensions between Hamas, the Palestinian Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt have been high since Morsi’s ouster. The Rafah border crossing was closed last August 2013 ‘indefinitely,’ and has since been opened only for a few days at a time, most recently in June. The closing of the border has been a focal point for tensions with Hamas, as it is the only land crossing into the Gaza Strip that is not controlled by Israel.

Egypt has, in the past, also accused Hamas of training militants and attacking Egyptian soldiers on multiple occasions. Tensions peaked when Hamas members were sentenced to death, alongside Morsi, by an Egyptian court on charges of espionage. An Egyptian court had also deemed Hamas a terrorist organization in late February 2015. During the hearing, the court claimed Hamas was responsible for creating a resurgence of violence in North Sinai, had used heavy weaponry against the army and was working with the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the ruling was overturned on June 6 on the basis that the group was out of the Egyptian government’s jurisdiction. The move was welcomed by Hamas. Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said he believes the ruling will have “positive consequences on the relationship between Hamas and Egypt.”

Joint Arab Force: As Egypt has taken part in airstrikes in two parts of the Middle East – targeting cities held by Islamist militia in Libya and supporting the Saudi-led offensive against the Houthis in Yemen – the government has also pushed for the creation of a united Arab force. In February, Sisi said that the need for a joint Arab military force was growing. Arab leaders have signed agreed to the creation of the military force, saying that it will take months to come together.


Sinai Residents: Abu Salama, a resident of Sheikh Zuweid, told Aswat Masriya, We’re [being ground] between the millstones; the security forces and the militants. We are scared, especially for our lives and the lives of our entire families. We could only chose to take the hardest decision; leave our houses and belongings behind.” On several occasions, Sinai residents have found bodies of civilians either shot dead or decapitated. In most cases, the Islamic State affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for their deaths, saying they were killed because they collaborated with security forces or with Israel.

Tourist Sites: Just this month, at least two attacks took place near popular tourist destinations. Two policemen were shot dead near the Giza pyramids on June 3. Meanwhile, a few days after the anniversary of Sisi’s inauguration, police said they foiled a suicide bombing attempt at the Karnak Temple in Luxor. On June 10, three men attempted an attack on the tourist destination. Police opened fire on the men when they attempted to evade security screening near the temple. Police opened fire, killing one and injuring another. A third attacker detonated his bomb, killing four people including two policemen.

NCHR Report: According to the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), a semi-governmental organization, at least 2,600 people have been killed since Morsi’s ouster. Of the 2,600 killed, 1,800 were civilians, 1,250 of which were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, while 700 were security forces. The NCHR had earlier estimated that 623 were killed during the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Raba’a al Adaweya, a year before Sisi was elected. The 2015 report did not distinguish how many people have died since June 2014.

Sinai Terror Attacks: In the first quarter of 2015 alone, at least 174 people were killed in Egypt, and over 1,000 violent incidents occurred. According to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, 27 terror attacks were carried out in October 2014, killing 48; November 2014 saw 42 attacks and 41 deaths; December 2014, saw 23 attacks over 30 deaths; January 2015 saw 107 attacks and 79 deaths; February 2015 saw 109 attacks and 37 deaths; March 2015 saw 107 attacks and 27 deaths; April 2015 saw 112 attacks and 70 deaths. According to numbers released by the armed forces, 866 suspected militants were killed in North Sinai from October to the end of May.

See below for a chart detailing the number of terror attacks, the number of deaths resulting from the terror attacks, and the number of counter-terror operations throughout the country from October 2014 to June 2015. 

Data sourced from TIMEP Monthly Reports 

Below are key security-related events that have taken place in Egypt over the past year:

  • June 30, 2014: Two policeman are killed and three are injured trying to detonate three bombs found outside the presidential palace. Ajnad Misr claims responsibility for the attacks.
  • July 19, 2014: In a firefight between groups of militants, twenty-two Egyptian military personnel are killed and five injured on the Egyptian-Libyan Border.
  • October 24, 2014:  Thirty-two Egyptian military soldiers are killed and over twenty-five injured in a series of coordinated attacks against the armed forces in Sinai.  The government declares a state of emergency in areas of North Sinai.
  • November 10, 2014: Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis announces it has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
  • December 24, 2014: A car-bomb targets the security directorate building in Mansoura. At least fifteen are killed.
  • January 3, 2015: Seventeen are killed when security forces clash with pro-Morsi protesters across Egypt.
  • January 23, 2015: Seventeen-year-old Sondos Abu Bakr is killed in pro-Brotherhood protests in Alexandria.
  • January 24, 2015: Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an activist and member of the Socialist Popular Alliance, is fatally shot in downtown Cairo. Sabbagh was in a small march heading to Tahrir Square to lay flowers in commemoration of the January 25 anniversary when she was shot in the back.
  • January 25, 2015: Twenty-three people are killed on January 25, and ninety-seven are injured according to Egypt’s Ministry of Health as protests mark the anniversary of the 2011 uprising. At least three policemen are among those killed, and nineteen are among those injured.
  • January 29, 2015: Thirty-two people, among them twenty-five soldiers and a policeman, are killed in a series of simultaneous attacks in North Sinai. At least 105 are. The attacks target an army base, the North Sinai Security Directorate headquarters, at least eight checkpoints, an army-owned hotel, and a police club. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), an Egyptian militant group which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, claims responsibility for the attack. The army spokesman blames the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack.
  • February 6, 2015: Military air strikes kill twenty-seven Islamic militants, and injure at least twenty others, in North Sinai.
  • February 9, 2015: At least twenty-two fans are killed in violence between security forces and Zamalek Ultras White Knights (UWK). The UWK claims the number of victims is twenty-eight, while east Cairo prosecution contradicted Barakat, saying the death toll was nineteen.
  • April 2, 2015: Militants attack five army checkpoints, killing twenty-two in North Sinai. Security forces kill thirty-five alleged militants in response.

Image: Photo: Armed Forces Facebook Page