A few weeks ago, terrorists laid siege to a mosque in the small town of Bir al-Abd that lies just off the east-west road spanning the northern Sinai Peninsula. They killed 305 people and wounded many others. The photos from the scene were macabre—the stuff of Baghdad or Karachi, not Egypt. Until the attack on the al-Rawdah Mosque on November 24, the deadliest terror incident in Egypt occurred in 1997, when a group called al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya killed 57 people—most of them Japanese and British tourists—at the Temple of Hatshepsut near Luxor. The recent bloodletting in the Sinai is believed to be the work of Wilayat Sina, the Sinai branch of the self-styled Islamic State, though no one has claimed responsibility.
How could such an attack have happened? The answer is straightforward: The perpetrators are adherents of a worldview that views violence as the principal means of purifying what they believe to be un-Islamic societies. It was not a coincidence that the attackers went after a mosque associated with Sufism—a mystical variant of traditional Islam that violent and nonviolent fundamentalists consider apostasy.
Yet when it comes to Egypt and its security problems, there is a tendency among some observers to make matters more complicated than they need be. As with terrorist attacks in the recent past, there was a strain of commentary about the Bir al-Abd massacre that laid blame for the bloodshed with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, specifically with his efforts to consolidate his power and establish stability in Egypt. The implicit solutions offered in these missives consistently misconstrue Egypt’s lack of democracy as the underlying reason for Wilayat Sina’s violence. This is odd, because from the perspective of extremism’s theoreticians, both democratic and authoritarian political systems are equally illegitimate for no reason other than they place human made laws above those handed down by God.