Calm returned to northern Sinai last week after gun battles between Egyptian security forces and fundamentalist groups continued for over one month.
The calm follows the arrest of several individuals last month for suspected involvement in recent violent acts in northern Sinai, including the attack on the El-Arish police station and the region's gas pipelines.
Experts and Islamist groups leaders told Al-Shorfa that Egyptian officials need to formulate a comprehensive plan for development and cultural advancement in northern Sinai to eliminate extremist ideology because a security solution by itself will not be enough.
In August, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces began preparing an urgent development plan that would be implemented in conjunction with a security plan, and that seeks to improve the Sinai Peninsula which includes North and South Sinai provinces. Officials want to eliminate the main causes that led to the emergence of takfiri groups, including poverty and unemployment.
The proposal includes the establishment of a High Commission for the Development of Sinai that would be affiliated with the Council of Ministers. The commission would be responsible for implementing the development plan. Egyptian Defence Ministry committees met with several local leaders and tribal elders in Sinai to obtain suggestions and discuss their vision for Sinai's future.
The plan also calls for the establishment of a third province called Central Sinai, which is now a destitute region, and establishment of the public University of Sinai.
Other proposed initiatives would allow Sinai residents to integrate in the Egyptian society through greater economic opportunities such as increasing their share of employment created by government subsidiaries and the private sector, and providing support that allows them to own and develop land.
The crisis in the Sinai began July 29th when masked gunmen surrounded the police station in El-Arish in northern Sinai and opened fire on security forces. Al least two officers were killed, and dozens were injured. The armed group that attacked the station hoisted black banners that read "No God but God and Mohammed is His Prophet."
In North Sinai, there were two attempts in the first four months following the January 25 revolution to blow up gas pipelines carrying gas that is exported to Jordan and Israel.
During the past month, Egyptian forces working with the Ministry of Interior raided several areas in northern Sinai and arrested dozens of individuals who were suspected of involvement in the attack.
Dr. Abdul-Rahim Ali, an expert on Islamist groups, said indicators point to the involvement of the Tawhid and Jihad organisation in Sinai's recent violence.
He told Al-Shorfa, "The black banners, methods and the targeting of security installations confirm that elements of Tawhid and Jihad, who were released or escaped from prison during the revolution, planned and carried out the operation."
The Tawhid and Jihad organisation emerged in Sinai in 2003 and claimed responsibility for several bombings in recent years, including the bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005, the bombings in the Dahab tourist area in 2006, and the bombing of Cairo's Al-Hussein district in 2009.
Several of the organisation's senior leaders renounced violence and issued ideological revisions in 2008 to the group's methodology that advocated violence. The Ministry of Interior then released some of its members from prison.
However, Egyptian media reported that the Shukri Mustafa wing of the Takfir wal Hijra group in Sinai was responsible for the El-Arish station attack and other violent incidents, but Egyptian officials have not announced the results of the investigations.
A number of Islamist groups that advocate violence emerged during the 1980s. The most prominent groups include the Islamic Group, the Islamic Jihad group that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri belonged to, and the Takfir wal Hijra group.
However, during the past 15 years, both the Islamic Group and Jihad group announced ideological revision to their methodology that espoused the use of violence, which led to the release of a large number of their leaders from prison, including Abboud Al-Zumar, who took part in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
A number of Islamists attribute the emergence of violent fundamentalist groups in northern Sinai to a pattern of neglect by the government over several decades. Widespread poverty and ignorance increased as a result of unemployment, a lack of services, and the spread of extremist ideology among villagers there.
Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, a leader of the Islamic Group, which renounced violence in 1997, said the environment in North Sinai is ideal for groups that espouse violence as a means of achieving their objectives, particularly as life in many villages is near primitive, and facilities are non-existent.
"People in Sinai have virtually no opportunities to attend schools or universities, and the security situation deteriorated since the January 25 revolution began. This made it easy for fundamentalists to re-emerge and exploit the fragile security and social situation to achieve their objectives," he said.
Ibrahim said when he was in prison in 2003 and 2004 he met several senior leaders of groups that were involved in the 2004 Taba bombings and the 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh attack. He said the group leaders subscribe to the takfiri school of thought and do not recognise theological or political pluralism. Their philosophy is to accuse any Muslim of being an unbeliever or an apostate if the individual disagrees with their violent approach.
"Their level of education is extremely low, and they lack intellectual grounds for their adoption of violence against civilians to achieve their goals," Ibrahim said. "This is a contrast to the leaders of Islamist groups that espoused violence in Egypt during the 1980s and 1990s as most of them held advanced university degrees."
Ibrahim said the security situation in Sinai before and after the revolution is "dire", which fosters the growth of extremist elements. These groups do not encounter any logistical difficulties when they are conducting operations such as gaining access to weapons, explosives, vehicles or finances, he added.
Dr. Amr al-Shobaki, a political analyst, said, "The solution for Sinai lies in a strong political will to establish government authority to Sinai after a long absence over many decades during which time the Sinai citizen felt that he is not part of his homeland."
Al-Shobaki told Al-Shorfa that decades of neglect made Sinai the least developed area in Egypt and contributed to high rates of unemployment, illiteracy and poverty.