One Year On, Survivors Of Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack Struggle To Rebuild
Enhanced security, aid packages and counseling have been provided to the Sinai town of al-Rawda where ISIS fighters killed over 300 people last year
[CAIRO] – One year after the deadliest terror attack in the history of modern Egypt, the villagers of the North Sinai village of al-Rawda are seeing signs of increased security and government investment even as they endure the continued trauma of the massacre at their beloved Sufi mosque where over 300 worshipers were assaulted by gunmen brandishing the flag of the Islamic State.
The mosque, clearly visible from Route 40 – the main road from the Suez Canal city of Ismailia to Rafa, the Gaza Strip border town – has been completely refurbished.
“We returned to holding prayers here on a normal basis as soon as one month after the attack,” Mohamed Abdel Fattah Zureik, the 28-year-old imam of the al-Rawda Mosque, told The Media Line.
Zureik said he has fully recovered from a shrapnel injury to his foot and is proud of the fact that he stayed in al-Rawda despite the horror of last year’s massacre.
“I love this town and this mosque, because it started off as Sufi zawya [the Egyptian colloquial term for the modest storefront houses of prayer that dot the landscape of the country’s smaller towns and poorer neighborhoods] said Zureik, “I first came to this mosque as a little boy. Still it’s impossible to forget the day last year when children, teenagers and old folks were murdered in cold blood.”
Senior government officials arrived in al-Rawda Friday to mark the anniversary of the attack and show Cairo’s commitment to rehabilitating the village.
North Sinai’s governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha, Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Sharawy, and top brass of from the army’s counter-terror division were on hand to inspect the new brick exterior of the al-Rawda mosque and upgrades to the local housing stock that consists mostly of haphazardly built cinder block structures.
“All ministries and state institutions have worked together to reconstruct the affected areas in the governorate and ease the consequences of the bloody attack,” Shousha told the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA).
MENA reported that financing for al-Rawda’s rehabilitation came from the Social Solidarity Welfare Ministry ($3.6 million), the Housing Ministry ($4.5 million) and the Ministry of Endowments ($900,000).
Sinai Reconstruction Authority Chairman Mohsen Hamed told The Media Line that significant amounts of cash have also been provided to the families of the victims.
“Relatives of the 303 martyrs have received 200,000 EGP [$11,150] per family and the 130 injured survivors were given support in amounts ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 EGP [$280 to 2,800] depending on the extent of their disability,” Hamed said.
The United States government has also contributed to the effort to restore normalcy to al-Rawda making a $123,000 grant for psycho-social counseling and vocational training to aid families and help provide sources of livelihood to those who lost loved ones. The vocational training supported by this grant includes the provision of weaving looms and supplies to women who lost family members in the attack.
But townspeople in al-Rawda say that when it comes to security, they are not only relying on the police force deployed by the Interior Ministry or the Egyptian Army.
“This village has been targeted for too long,” Yasir Adel, a 23-year-old resident of the village, told The Media Line. “The men here are doing shifts alongside the government security forces at the checkpoint to monitor for ourselves who is being let in to al-Rawda.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the military to restore “security and stability” to the area launching Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018 last year. The ongoing security effort includes the country’s air force and coast guard alongside ground troops who were already stationed in Sinai.
Just a day before the al-Rawda anniversary, the State Information Service announced a raid by troops on terrorist hideouts in unfinished apartment blocks in el-Arish resulting in the deaths of 12 jihadists last Thursday.
Yet even government officials are indicating the effort has still to accomplish its goals of eradicating the remnants of the “Wilayat Sina” branch of the Islamic State terrorist organization.
“We have held back on some projects such as the establishment of a new city center in Bir al-Abed until the end of the comprehensive operation, there are areas where terrorist groups are still active, and we are looking to double down on our investment in these areas once [the army’s] achievements are real and sustainable,” Sharawy told The Media Line.