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Will Morsi's dismissal of key officials stabilise Sinai?

Gone are the days of Hosni Mubarak when security officials weathered the storm of terror attacks in Egypt, escaping dismissal and accountability. Mohamed Morsi has this week attempted to set the precedent for a new era of strength, one in which public figures will be held accountable for their actions.

On Wednesday, Murad Muwafi, the now ex-head of intelligence in Egypt, became one in a long line of key officials to be sacked over blunders surrounding the attack at an army checkpoint on Sunday, when 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed as they broke their Ramadan fasts in Sinai. Muwafi did, after all, admit at a public conference that he had received prior intelligence of the assault, but failed to stop it.

It wasn't just Muwafi who misjudged the Sinai incident. Former Republican Guard Commander Major General Samy Dyab advised the president not to attend the soldiers' funerals for fear of being attacked or disturbing mourners with his security presence. The public, rightfully so, were furious at his absence and now, just like Muwafi, Dyab has been shown the door.

Dyab's dismissal is part of a wider attempt to reverse a rising tide of negative public opinion about Morsi. His critics say that he is weak and hasn't done enough to prevent violence in Sinai. Since Sunday, the media have held the president's decision to free Egyptian militants from jail – those who were sentenced in the 80s and 90s – to blame for the brutality.

Morsi is also driven by a desire to free the government from the army's iron fist. A declaration by the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the lead up to Morsi's election dissolved the president's power and prevented him from making changes within the military. Public hostility towards the remnants of Mubarak's ousted regime, whether within the security services or the military, is no secret, and where Mubarak or SCAF employed all of the sacked officials, in an act of defiance Morsi has removed them.

Of course, any reshuffling of officials in Egypt will leave its neighbours wondering where this leaves their relationship. According to Israel, however, Muwafi's replacement, Mohammed Rafaat Abdel Wahad Shehata, has good relations with Israeli security and has not uttered anti-Israeli sentiments in public. Indeed, he had a vital role in the negotiations to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shilat in October last year in exchange for over a thousand Palestinians being held by Israel.

Positive statements are, for the moment, having a calming effect on a security situation in the Sinai Peninsula that has gone downhill since Mubarak's overthrow in the 2011 revolution and Mohamed Morsi came to power. So far, the president has not only responded to negative public sentiment amongst Egyptians but has at the same time appeased Israel, thwarting any retaliation by the Israel Defence Forces, for the time being at least.
What, though, has Morsi done to appease the masked gunmen who killed his soldiers? Whether they are happy with his reforms or if they continue their attacks in the Peninsula will be a crucial factor in the future of Egypt.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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