The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has officially entered Egypt. On November 10, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a militant movement that operates out of the northern Sinai Peninsula, pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group, which emerged after the 2011 uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has already established itself as a formidable player in its own right. In recent months, it has staged devastating attacks on Egypt’s police forces and claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks on military facilities in Cairo and the Sinai Peninsula.
The announcement was not a complete surprise, however, coming just weeks after Egyptian President Abel Fattah al-Sisi declared a state of emergency in the Sinai Peninsula and launched a bloody offensive against the group, which required an evacuation of Rafah that displaced approximately 10,000 people. Moreover, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and ISIS are natural partners: They share not only a radical ideology but also barbaric tactics. Last August, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis decapitated four local men in northern Sinai after accusing them of being informants for Israel. But the decision to join ISIS marks the end of a bitter dispute within the militant movement’s rank-and-file over whether to join the global group. The split concerned two interlinked issues. The first was whether Ansar Beit al-Maqdis should join a global network or continue to operate independently. Some of the group’s leaders argued—and failed to convince their peers—that focusing solely on Egypt would secure local support. The second was the choice between joining al Qaeda and ISIS. Whereas the group’s veterans generally preferred the former, younger members pressed to join the latter.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’ new ambitions provide yet another sign that Sisi’s campaign of blind and brutal repression has backfired: Over the past few years, the militant group has grown only more appealing to disillusioned young Egyptians. And, in turn, it has expanded its objectives. In the months after Mubarak’s ouster, the group focused report, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’ attacks on greater Cairo have become as frequent as—and more deadly than—its assaults in Sinai.
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