Wilayat Sinai split with ISIS 'inevitable': experts

By Ahmed al-Sharqawi in Cairo

A member of the Egyptian security forces stands guard next to a damaged bus following a roadside bomb blast which wounded 20 Egyptian policemen on the outskirts of the northern Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish on July 9th, 2015. [Stringer/AFP]

A member of the Egyptian security forces stands guard next to a damaged bus following a roadside bomb blast which wounded 20 Egyptian policemen on the outskirts of the northern Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish on July 9th, 2015. [Stringer/AFP]

The link between the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and its Egyptian affiliate, Wilayat Sinai, has been under strain in recent months as ISIS comes under fire in Iraq and Syria, military experts tell Al-Mashareq.

With the Egyptian affiliate also facing pressure from the army and local tribes, a split between the two groups seems inevitable, they said.

Collectively, these defeats crush the dream of the "caliphate" that ISIS sought to establish in direct violation of the sovereignty of many states.

And as the Egyptian army asserts its control over its land and maritime borders, smuggling and communications channels between the parent group and its affiliate have been severed, furthering the rift between the two groups.

Growing internal divisions

"The relationship between Wilayat Sinai and ISIS has been rocked by sharp disagreements since ISIS lost control over vast territories in Iraq and Syria, and due to its inability to communicate with its elements in Sinai," said Islamic affairs expert Ahmed Ban.

The loss of Mosul was a "devastating setback" for ISIS, he told Al-Mashareq, which leaves the Syrian city of al-Raqa "as the last card the group has to attempt to revive its dream of the caliphate state".

There is a growing camp within Wilayat Sinai that believes that if ISIS loses al-Raqa, the group should recant its pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or any potential successor, Ban explained.

"ISIS is claiming to have control over territory in Iraq and also in Chad to preserve the allegiance pledged to it by affiliated groups," Ban said, adding that these attempts are doomed to fail.

He said he believes ISIS’s imminent demise was the reason behind al-Qaeda's recent call to arms, directed at extremists around the world, which was a clear attempt to lure ISIS fighters into the fold of al-Qaeda.

"Wilayat Sinai in Egypt is under extreme duress after military supplies to it were cut off as a result of the successive airstrikes carried out by the Egyptian air force and tightening of control on the Egyptian-Libyan border," Ban said.

Successive raids carried out by Egyptian forces in Sinai have targeted the group's hideouts, killed dozens of its fighters and destroyed its weapon caches, Ban said.

ISIS’s inability to alleviate the pressure on Wilayat Sinai has given rise to divisions within its affiliate, he said, prompting a number of leaders to reconsider their pledge of allegiance to al-Baghdadi and consider breaking away from ISIS.

'Caliphate' dream is collapsing

The key elements of statehood are territory, population and sovereignty, said Iman Rajab of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

If any of these elements is missing, a state will collapse, she told Al-Mashareq.

ISIS announced the establishment of its "Islamic state" after seizing vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, she said.

With the liberation of these lands, the "caliphate" will no longer exist in any tangible form, she added, and ISIS will be merely "a radical group that does not hold territory".

As a result of this diminishment, she said, the group will lose Wilayat Sinai’s pledge of allegiance, as well as that of ISIS elements in Nigeria, Chad and the Philippines and some lone wolves scattered in Europe.

"Although ISIS’s loss of territory will cause it to lose its elements, other elements who manage the group’s vast amounts of cash also must be tracked down, so the group becomes a head without a tail," she said.

As for the situation in Sinai, ISIS’s activity has been in decline, Rajab said, noting that the peninsula's tribes have been working in co-operation with the army and police in the fight against Wilayat Sinai.

This has "weakened the morale of Wilayat Sinai and made them averse to fighting, especially seeing as many of them have been killed", she said.

Rajab stressed the need to hunt down the group’s elements to prevent them from escaping to more densely populated areas such as the Nile Valley, the Delta or Cairo, and staging suicide attacks in these areas.

Breakaway of Wilayat Sinai

"Wilayat Sinai has become incapable of fighting the army or achieving any gains," military expert Maj. Gen. Galal Abdel-Hadi told Al-Mashareq.

The way it has carried out its operations in the recent period indicates it has "lost contact with ISIS", he said.

"The current disagreements among Wilayat Sinai elements are a natural consequence of the losses the group has suffered as a result of the targeting of its leaders, most recently its recruitment official, Ghandar al-Masri," he said.

Successive airstrikes have destroyed many of its hideouts and weapon caches.

"Wilayat Sinai no longer benefits from ISIS, having lost contact with it," he said, adding that its supplies of smuggled weapons have been severed since the Egyptian army reasserted its control over land and maritime borders.

Abdel-Hadi predicted that before long, Wilayat Sinai will break its pledge of allegiance to ISIS.

This will prompt many other groups and elements affiliated with ISIS to conduct ideological reviews that could once and for all crush the "caliphate" dream promoted and propagated by ISIS, he added.

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Garbage article containing baseless speculations and expectations; it's as bad as other garbage articles.