Egypt’s struggle to stop the threats coming across its borders
Egypt’s four borders are a source of constant concern for the Cairo government, as the flaming conditions to the north, south, east and west have not abated in recent years, especially with the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Spring.”
The danger of terrorism comes from all sides, while there are other risks associated with illegal immigration and smuggling contraband and drugs, all of which threaten the state and its stability, especially as Egypt is engaged in a fierce war with extremism while also facing countless economic challenges.
In Gaza, there have been widespread protests against Hamas, which controls the Strip. The popular “We Want to Live” movement in Gaza has called for a comprehensive strike in response to Hamas’ crackdowns and policies that have caused deteriorations in the living and humanitarian conditions.
A vengeful hunger for revolution is looming in Gaza, while Hamas is trying to abort it by carrying out a campaign of arrests of activists, protesters and the employees of human rights organizations. Several areas in the Gaza Strip, including Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah, have witnessed demonstrations, and a young man even set fire to himself in protest against the deteriorating living conditions.
Gaza’s two million residents complain of poor economic conditions and social services in the territory, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007. The volatile situation, caused by the policies of Hamas on the one hand and the suffocating blockade imposed by the Israeli occupation forces on the other, is a harbinger of a new crisis for Egypt, which has recently suffered from an influx of armed militias through the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
The Egyptian army has been trying to clear the Sinai Peninsula from Daesh terrorists. Among the measures taken by the army in recent years include the filling in of tunnels, which were a major inconvenience to the Egyptian authorities because they were usually the main channel for the influx of militants into the Sinai.
Egypt has succeeded in filling in a large number of tunnels, the latest of which was announced by the army this month. Counterterrorism forces in North Sinai, in cooperation with military engineers, discovered and destroyed nine tunnel openings that were up to 2 meters by 2 meters in size. They led to three main tunnels on the Gaza border, with depths of up to 30 meters and lengths of up to 3 km. The tunnels were used by terrorist elements for infiltration and the smuggling of arms, ammunition and explosive materials.
Egypt has always faced threats from across its borders, probably because it is an important civilization, or maybe because it is a central state in the Middle East whose role transcends its four borders.
Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy
Pulling motors, electrical cables, lighting materials, headsets and fuel were found inside the tunnels. Two vehicles were discovered and destroyed, and 40 bombs, as well as materials used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices, were also found.
Egypt’s western border with Libya extends for 1,115 km, which means that it is difficult to achieve full control over. Libya has become one of the key focal points for extremist groups after the fall of the Qaddafi regime. As a result, a number of forces there are fighting for power, including some illegal armed groups.
The Egyptian army’s battle on the western border is difficult, and the armed forces are constantly announcing the destruction of terrorist vehicles or strongholds close to the border. However, on March 1, Libyan National Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Mesmari announced full control of the Libyan border, while the Libyan army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, has launched an extensive campaign against terrorist groups.
Col. Miloud Jawad, the undersecretary general of the Interior Ministry of the Libyan Interim Government based in Tobruk, said in January that the ministry had begun building a wall at its eastern border crossing with Egypt to help prevent the infiltration of militants and to combat smuggling across the border. However, many security experts in Egypt have questioned the effectiveness of the wall in preventing the infiltration of terrorists.
To the south, Sudan has never been a secure border because of its mountainous nature. Smuggling at the Sudanese border has seen weapons and drugs cross into Egypt, as well as the infiltration of dangerous individuals who use Egypt as a gateway to Israel. Although the western border has been used more than the southern border for arms smuggling over the years, Egyptian border guards’ attempts to thwart smuggling attempts are continuing.
The political situation in Sudan also does not bode well, following the protests that swept many parts of the country. The protests have been ongoing for four months due to high inflation. The Sudanese people have been suffering for years because of the economic problems that put pressure on the country. President Omar Al-Bashir announced last month a state of emergency throughout the country, while an official toll says that 31 people have been killed since the start of the protests. However, independent human rights organizations have reported the deaths of 51 people.
Finally, the northern coast of Egypt extends for about 1,050 km along the Mediterranean Sea. This has also been a source of concern due to the phenomenon of illegal migration occurring in Egyptian waters, along with associated outbreaks of criminality, namely human and organ trafficking.
Several international organizations have considered Egypt, being close to Europe, as a center for the secondary displacement of illegal immigrants. The biggest dilemma lies with Africans and immigrants from countries with conflicts, such as Libya, Yemen and Syria, who come to Egypt to board illegal immigration boats to Europe.
History shows that Egypt has always faced threats from across its borders, probably because it is an important civilization, or maybe because it is a central state in the Middle East and its role transcends its four borders.
• Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.