MONOFEYA, Egypt -- Anis Nasr al-Din was missing. The 21-year-old police conscript had spent the night of Aug. 18 in the city of Arish, and
was heading back to his unit's base in the town of Rafah, along the Egyptian
border with the Gaza Strip, after a holiday. But the next day, his family was
unable to reach him.
"At 5 a.m., I gave him a couple of phone calls, but he was
hanging up," said Anis's brother Mohammed. "At 6:30 a.m., I tried to call four
more times, but the phone was just ringing.
Mohammed kept trying to reach his brother throughout the day,
but was unsuccessful. By the afternoon, he learned why: Armed gunmen ambushed
two buses carrying the police conscripts at a checkpoint in a small village
outside of Rafah, binding their arms and executing them in cold blood along the
side of the road.
At least 25 police conscripts were killed in the assault,
including Anis. It was the bloodiest attack yet on Egypt's security forces in
the North Sinai, which is the site of an increasingly violent insurgency by
The Egyptian government describes its struggle against
jihadists in Sinai as a war on terror -- reaching for another phrase in the
American political lexicon to
describe its military campaign there, dubbing it "Operation Desert Storm." Its
language does not leave much room for distinguishing between the jihadists in
Sinai and Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo: When army chief Abdel Fattah
on Egyptians to take to the streets last month "to give me a mandate to end
terrorism," his words were soon followed by a crackdown on the pro-Morsy demonstrations
in the capital. And in the villages from which many of the conscripts hailed,
their families and neighbors are now preparing for their own smaller wars on
The governorate of Monofeya was home to 21 of the murdered
conscripts, including Anis. It is a primarily rural area; most residents make
their livelihoods through farming, and donkeys, horses, and sheep mingle in the
street with trucks carrying agricultural produce. It is also a stronghold of
the old regime: former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Anwar Sadat hailed
from Monofeya. Posters of Sadat still grace the back of many buses passing
through the area, as well as the front page of the
governorate's official website.
Today, Monofeya is a stronghold of support for Sisi. A sign
over the entrance to one of the towns in the area hails him as "the lion heart,
the vanquisher of terrorism." There are
only scattered signs of dissent: a poster of deposed President Mohamed Morsy
hangs on the door of one building, while graffiti scrawled hastily in English
on the side of a wall reads, "CC is killer."
In Metshamy, the village where Anis grew up, residents take
it as gospel that the conflict with jihadists in Sinai, the crackdown on
pro-Morsy protesters in Cairo, and their own struggles with the Muslim
Brotherhood in Monofeya are different fronts in a single war.
Tarek al-Jumma, a 43-year-old resident of the area, offers a
succinct explanation of the Sinai attack: "There was an ambush by the Muslim
Brotherhood, who stopped the car and shot them."
Brotherhood leaders have condemned the attack
and denied they had any role in it, but Jumma brushed aside the possibility
that jihadi groups could be behind the killing. "Who's launching terrorist
attacks in the country? It's the Brotherhood. It has to be them," he said.
"[The Islamist groups] are all one, they're all the same."
And even as these citizens mourned their dead from Sinai,
the simmering tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood members in Monofeya boiled
over. Mahmoud, an uncle of Anis, said the troubles began as soon as the
conscripts' bodies were sent back to their villages. "The Muslim Brotherhood
made some checkpoints on the distant roads to try to get the bodies," he said.
"So they can use the names and images for their cause."
The family's account cannot be confirmed, but there is no
doubt that there have been scattered clashes in Monofeya since Morsy's ouster. Jumma
said that the violence started after the Brotherhood opened fire on one of the
funerals, "so some clashes happened that resulted in the destruction of the
The clashes only ended, Jumma and other village residents
said, after security forces forcibly separated the warring political groups.
"The only one thing that holds this area together is the police," Jumma said. "If
the police are gone from the picture, we'd be thrown in complete chaos."
The foremost figure preventing Monofeya and the entire
country from sliding into chaos, of course, is Sisi. The army chief "is the
symbol of manhood," said Hamed al-Meshlawi, a 41-year-old resident of Metshamy.
And right now, the military leader is doing more than anyone
else to help them win their eternal battle against the Muslim Brotherhood. "The
army has been here for hundreds of years protecting this country, [Brotherhood members] are just
interlopers who got into this country and are trying to destroy it," said
Anis's uncle, Mahmoud. "We will be more than happy to present our lives and our
belongings to destroy terrorism in our country. Anis's death, or any
conscript's death, will not make us think twice about this."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images