Between 2004 and 2006, a series of deadly bombings tore through the resort towns of Taba, Dehab, and Sharm El-Sheikh, killing dozens of people—including a number of Israeli tourists who once roamed freely in the Sinai (Israeli search-and-rescue crews were allowed to cross the border to assist in operations following a bombing at the Taba Hilton, which killed 33 people). The tourism industry in the Sinai took a massive financial hit as a result, with Israelis heeding travel bans set by their government. The Mubarak regime, meanwhile, did little to revitalize the industry, and the region’s residents continued to suffer from neglect and discrimination.
Within weeks of the January 25th revolution in 2011, insurgents in the Sinai clamoring to be heard amid the chaos tried to bomb the Arab Gas Pipeline, which runs through Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and has an offshoot stretching from Al-Arish to Israel. The destabilization of Libya following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, and the enduring lawlessness of neighboring Sudan, has made it easier for militants to traffic weapons and people with little concern for the law. A senior North African intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that hundreds of Sinai-based militants are traveling to Libya virtually undetected for training and cooperation with members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Sinai residents have long endured extreme poverty, limited access to education and health care, and socioeconomic marginalization, which has made them resentful of the federal government in Cairo. In the 1990s, the Mubarak regime invested heavily in developing the tourism industry in southern Sinai, beginning with the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. But foreigners and Egyptians from outside the Sinai claimed the majority of the jobs created by that effort. Today, the Sinai is the least developed part of the country and has the highest unemployment rate among all of Egypt’s 29 governorates, according to Steven Cook, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.
And the situation only appears to be getting worse. The Sinai's tourism industry, already reeling from a drop off in visitors since 2011, has suffered further losses since the recent spike in violence. Nearly 50 hotels in Sharm El-Sheikh and Taba were forced to temporarily shutter in September amid growing violence and sinking profits.
Morsi's government initially managed to win some support from Sinai tribes following its promise to reverse a law banning peninsula residents from owning land—a security provision put in place during the Mubarak regime. But the security vacuum and economic decline that characterized Morsi's time in office left most of the Sinai deeply unstable.
"There is only one word to describe it here: shit," said Muhamed Sabry, a journalist from Al-Arish who was arrested by military police and handed a six-month suspended jail sentence after filming video of police activity in Rafah. “After the car bombs started, the streets where … security headquarters are located were closed. In Rafah and Al-Arish, the security headquarters are located on main streets, so we have to take back roads, but the streets are narrow. There are a lot of accidents and broken roads that damage our cars. They are torturing us."