And possibly executed point-blank. Islamist militants attacked an Egyptian police convoy with rocket-propelled grenades in Rafah, a town is quite close to the border with Gaza, and killed at least 24 police recruits. Additionally, according to this police report documented by a prominent Egyptian blogger, the ambulance report (in Arabic) says that “nearly all” of them were killed by “gunshots in the back and head” (graphic photos of the dead are here). That’s obviously circumstantial evidence and unconfirmed, but regardless of what happened, the death toll is disturbing, and is reflective of increasing unrest in the Sinai, one of Egypt’s most dangerous and strategically important areas. Hosni Mubarak’s government pretty well secured the area — when I was there in 2009, there remained the possibility of convoy hold-ups and banditry, but Islamist insurgencies, and violence attached to Bedouin and Palestinian smuggling operations, had been virtually eliminated; the violence is now back with a vengeance.
The Sinai is important for umpteen reasons: It’s the geographic lynchpin of Egypt and Israel’s 1979 peace treaty, it’s home to the Suez Canal, Egypt’s biggest beach resorts and huge sources of foreign exchange are located there, and it has a history of Islamist insurgencies. So needless to say, the resurgence of real conflict there since Mubarak’s removal is a serious problem — and one directly damaging to American interests. The Daily Telegraph reports today on the concerns in commodities markets that the flow of oil in the Suez Canal, through which 7 percent of the world’s seaborne oil is transported every year, could be slowed or halted. That’s just due to general concern over the situation in Egypt (which has also seen the country’s stock market crash and its government-debt yields rise), not even the specific problems of the Sinai. This is just one more problem for the military government, and whoever its successor is, to confront, and one at which Morsi’s government abjectly failed.