On February 3, the New York Times reported that Israel and Egypt are cooperating in the fight against terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula. In this context, Israel has carried out more than 100 air strikes, with Egypt’s consent. Reports about this cooperation sparked extensive online discourse among Egyptian social media users, who expressed mixed reactions. On one hand, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and leftists condemned the Israeli involvement, and accused the Egyptian regime of treason. In their view, the Egyptian army is nothing but a tool that Israel is using to advance its interests in the region. On the other hand, supporters of President ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi and anti-Islamists expressed their support for the cooperation, and stressed that it is a welcome process that contributes to Egypt's national security.
News of the cooperation was denied by a spokesman for the Egyptian army, shortly after it was published: “The Egyptian army and the civilian police are the only forces fighting terrorism in northern Sinai, without the assistance of others.” al-Sisi’s supporters endorsed this claim and proposed several possible sources for the false report, first and foremost the Muslim Brotherhood or, alternatively, its traditional patrons. One user from Kufr al-Zayyat who took this stance wrote, “This newspaper is false and unreliable because it is funded by Ibn Muza [the wife of the former Emir of Qatar].” Others claimed that the paper’s editors-in-chief are Zionists who work for Israel.
Juxtaposed with such denials, many Egyptian social media users responded to the army spokesman’s denial by making it clear that they do not believe the official version of events. Rather, they claimed that there has been security cooperation between the two countries in Sinai for some time. A user from Cairo asserted that the Egyptian people aren’t stupid, and it would be better for the army not to underestimate their ability to understand the situation. Other users described the Israeli aid as an insult to Egypt’s honor, and wondered whether the Egyptian army’s power had diminished, using the situation on the eve of the 1973 war as a comparison. Bahey Hassan, an Egyptian human rights activist, pointed out several possible reasons for its failure: “The soldiers are poor and the officers arrogant. They are not skilled in urban warfare. There is discrimination against residents of Sinai who consequently feel no need to be loyal to al-Sisi.” Therefore, he claimed, some of them chose to maintain a positive relationship with ISIS. Users affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and left-wing activists criticized al-Sisi and his regime directly, using the hashtag, “Sinai in Zionist hands." They contended that this is an additional expression of the president’s treachery: just as he sold the Tiran and Sanafir Islands to Saudi Arabia, he now intends to hand the Sinai Peninsula over to Israel. Hossam el-Shorbagy, an Egyptian journalist for al-Jazeera wrote that security cooperation with Israel is a violation of Egyptian sovereignty, and paves the way for Egypt to spill the blood of the residents of Sinai.
Users posited several reasons for Israel’s readiness to cooperate with Egypt on security matters, including its desire to win Egyptian support for the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem; tightening the siege on the Gaza Strip and disarming Hamas as part of the preparations for an Israeli invasion of Gaza; ensuring that al-Sisi serves another term as president of Egypt because it serves Israeli interests; and Israel’s desire to purge the Sinai Peninsula of the local population in order to implement al-Sisi’s 2014 plan to transfer Sinai to the Palestinians, as a way to expand the Gaza Strip and establish a Palestinian state.
Alongside such harsh criticism, some voices did favor cooperation and stronger ties with Israel. Egyptian users noted that although Israel was once an enemy, it can no longer be considered as such now that it has signed a peace agreement with Egypt. These users cited Israel’s contribution to cutting off the financial support that Qatar and Turkey had provided for ISIS personnel. For example, one young man from Alexandria wrote: “Since the peace treaty, it has been in our interest as Egyptians to have a strong relationship with our neighbor Israel, unlike the dogs of Hamas.” He further said that Egypt does not benefit from defending the Palestinian people, and therefore: “We as a people and as a state must focus on our own interests and [cooperation] with Israel is definitely one of them.” A user from Cairo noted, “I don’t have a significant problem cooperating with Israel against the black terrorism” and proposed “using the mindless Muslim Brothers and Jihadist-Salafis as human shields in Sinai.” Still another user claimed that Egypt needs assistance from Israel because Israel has advanced technology that the Egyptian army lacks, such as surveillance equipment and missile-carrying aerial drones.
Other users chose to support al-Sisi and pointed accusing fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey. One user from Ismailia remarked that al-Sisi is trying very hard to improve Egypt’s situation in every field, and the real enemy is Brotherhood movement and its supporters, who are waging a widespread propaganda war against him. Some of these users noted that Arab solidarity is “bankrupt,” and also accused Qatar and Turkey of interfering in Egyptian affairs, and being responsible for the appearance of ISIS in Sinai.
The security cooperation between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula is criticized harshly by many Egyptian citizens, mainly from the Muslim Brotherhood and the political left. However, it is impossible to ignore the voices who seek to present the benefits of this cooperation. The discourse reveals a certain shift in the perception of Israel among some non-Islamist youth, who now consider it not an enemy but rather a supporter of Egypt's national security while Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood are perceived as subversive.