I have to take issue with Sharif Nashashibi’s article on Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis that appeared in The National yesterday. Though Nashashibi rightly criticizes the many commentators, especially inside Egypt, who view Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a recent phenomenon, he is incorrect in trying to ascribe all violence in the Sinai going back to the Mubarak era to one group with one set of motives. There has been violence in the Sinai for years – yes, that is true – but the shape, scale, and character of that violence has changed immeasurably since the ouster of President Muhammed Morsi last July. Attacks on Egyptian military targets (claims of responsibility for which are posted on distinctly Salafi-jihadi websites) are simply not the same kind of violence seen prior to 2011.
An either/or analysis of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis will not suffice and will provide no illumination to the current security situation in Egypt. Egyptian security officials are incorrect in saying that violence in the Sinai has been brought on by supporters of Morsi looking for vengeance, but it is also incorrect to rebut that argument by simply saying that the Sinai has always been a “lawless wasteland.”
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is not going away anytime soon and we will need a much more nuanced approach to learn anything valuable about who they are and what they are after.