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Nile waters crisis with Ethiopia started to shake up domestic politics, and jihadist attacks regained intensity in Sinai Peninsula. Various opposition figures tried to use diplomatic impasse over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD, see also Nile Waters) to challenge President Sisi’s rule. Left-wing and Nasserist opposition groups, along with public personalities 1 June launched new coalition with view to “defending Egypt’s water rights”, notably calling for binding agreement with Ethiopia. Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali 9 June – whose online videos accusing Sisi of corruption triggered wave of anti-govt protests in 2019 – called on Egyptians to take to the streets 10 July and carry out “Nile Revolution”. In response to rising pressure, authorities continued to clamp down on dissent. Family of former Egyptian Ambassador Yahia Najm, who has criticised govt’s handling of GERD crisis, 6 June said authorities arrested Najm late May. In Sinai Peninsula, jihadists stepped up attacks against army and civilians. Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) 3 June infiltrated army camp south of Sheikh Zuweid town, wounding at least four soldiers, and next day ambushed army patrol in same area, reportedly killing or wounding four. IEDs 4 June killed or wounded passengers of pro-army militia vehicle south of Rafah town, and killed intelligence officer in Northern Sinai. Suspected SP combatants 8 June kidnapped five civilians near Bir al-Abd town. IEDs 15-17 June reportedly targeted army convoy and bulldozers in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid areas; death toll unknown. Meanwhile, army 14 June killed senior SP official Abdullah Bariq al-Awassi south of Rafah
Authorities sought to purge state institutions of outlawed Muslim Brotherhood amid steps toward reconciliation with Ankara. Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk 3 May reported parliament was set to discuss draft law aimed at removing civil servants suspected of supporting or sympathising with Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherwood (MB); bill comes after Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir late April blamed recent spate of deadly train accidents, which prompted calls for his resignation, on “extremists” working in railway sector. Several NGOs, including Democracy for the Arab World Now, in following days criticised bill as “persecution” of MB members. Jihadist violence in Sinai Peninsula persisted at low level; suspected Sinai Province militants 1 May killed three civilians in Al-Arish area. Turkish delegation led by Deputy FM Sedat Önal 5 May visited Cairo to discuss re-establishing diplomatic ties; both sides recorded some progress, but presence of MB members in Turkey and Turkish troops in Libya remained stumbling blocks to full reconciliation; Egyptian delegation expected to visit Turkey in coming weeks. In possible warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation of tensions amid reports Ethiopia had started second filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Sudan and Egypt 26-31 May held third joint military exercise since Nov 2020 (see Nile Waters). After violent conflict broke out between Israel and Palestinian armed factions in Gaza Strip, Cairo mid-May sent ambulances to Gaza and opened Rafah crossing to allow passage of humanitarian aid; also played leading role in brokering 20 May ceasefire (see Israel-Palestine).
Jihadist insurgency persisted in Sinai Peninsula, while govt took further steps toward rapprochement with Turkey. In Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province reportedly redeployed from north to central Sinai under army’s pressure, with build-up reported in Bir al-Abd region and Jabal Maghara area. Suspected Sinai Province militants 2 April killed unspecified number of pro-army militiamen in Manjam village. ISIS 5 April published pictures of execution of tribal militiaman previously kidnapped in al-Barth area, south of Rafah city; 17 April released video showing killing of Coptic Christian and two other men in Sinai Peninsula. Court in capital Cairo 8 April sentenced Mahmoud Ezzat, former acting leader of outlawed Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood, to life imprisonment on terrorism charges. In likely attempt to respond to U.S. pressure, authorities 13 April released former opposition party leader Khaled Daoud, next day set free journalists Hosam al-Sayed and Solafa Magdy; all three had been imprisoned since 2019. After train wreck 18 April killed at least 11 people north of capital Cairo, Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir 20 April sacked head of Railways Authority; al-Wazir 26 April appeared before Parliament amid mounting popular anger over recurrent train accidents. After Egyptian and Turkish officials late March took initial steps to normalise relations, bilateral contacts culminated in 15 April announcement of Turkish delegation’s visit to Cairo in early May; Cairo’s request that Ankara extradite Muslim Brotherhood officials who have taken shelter in Turkey after 2013 military coup remains stumbling block. Meanwhile, tensions mounted further with Ethiopia amid persistent deadlock in negotiations over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters).
Low-intensity jihadist violence persisted in North Sinai, and group of Western countries, including U.S., condemned crackdown on dissent. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate Sinai Province 4 and 11 March reportedly killed eight including at least two civilians; mid-March detonated IED near army armoured vehicle in Sheikh Zuweid area, killing several soldiers. Bedouin tribal force and security forces mid-March killed Salim Salma Said al-Hamadin, senior ISIS commander in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid areas, south of Rafah town. NGO Human Rights Watch 17 March said demolition of buildings and forced evictions of residents as part of govt’s counter-insurgency policy in Sinai “likely amount to war crimes”. U.S. 12 March joined group of 30 UN Human Rights Council member states to condemn “restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly” and “application of terrorism legislation against peaceful critics” in first such statement since 2014; govt immediately rejected “reckless” accusations. Amid growing convergence between Egypt and Sudan notably on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute with Ethiopia (see Nile Waters entry), both countries 2 March signed military cooperation agreement; in following days, President Sisi 6 March visited Sudan’s capital Khartoum for first time since 2019 overthrow of Sudan’s former President al-Bashir, while Sudan’s PM Hamdok 11 March travelled to capital Cairo. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 12 March reported first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 coup in Egypt. Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry 14 March confirmed diplomatic contacts with Ankara but said dialogue was limited and Turkey’s actions must “show alignment with Egyptian principles and goals” for relations to return to normal, in possible allusion to presence of Egyptian opposition leaders in Turkey; partial rapprochement could pave way for understanding on Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
Jihadist violence left several dead in North Sinai, and govt mended ties with Qatar after years-long dispute. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province continued to target security forces. Spate of IED attacks 1, 3, 11 and 26 Jan killed at least four security forces personnel in Bir al-Abd area; 3-10 Jan left unknown number of casualties in and around Rafah city at border with Gaza strip; 21 Jan killed at least one security forces personnel in Sheikh Zuweid area. Suspected jihadists 2 Jan reportedly kidnapped nine civilians near Bir al-Abd town; 17 Jan detonated explosive at gas pipeline near Al-Arish city. Parliament’s lower house 12 Jan elected former head of Supreme Constitutional Court Hanafy Ali El-Gebali as speaker; lower house currently dominated by Mostaqbal Watan party, loyal to President Sisi, following last year’s legislative elections. Police 25 Jan arrested cartoonist Ashraf Hamdi after he posted online video commemorating 2011 uprising that overthrew former President Mubarak. In concerted move to end over-three-year-long Qatar blockade, Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, 5 Jan signed reconciliation agreement with Doha, vowing to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties; Cairo 12 Jan reopened Egyptian airspace to Qatari flights; 20 Jan exchanged official memoranda with Qatar on resuming diplomatic relations. Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam resumed early Jan but failed to make progress.
President Sisi’s allies won absolute majority in parliament’s lower house, and jihadist insurgency persisted in north Sinai. Following third and final round of legislative elections 7-8 Dec, Mostaqbal Watan party, loyal to Sisi, increased its share of seats to at least 316 from 53 in 596-seat chamber (Sisi still to appoint 28 deputies); Republican People’s Party, another pro-Sisi party, won 50 seats, up from 13; meanwhile opposition further marginalised as several opposition deputies lost seats. Crackdown on dissent continued unabated; NGO Amnesty International 2 Dec said authorities executed at least 57 individuals, including at least 15 sentenced to death in cases relating to political violence, in Oct-Nov alone, nearly twice as many as in 2019. Security forces 3 Dec arrested businessman Sayed Sowerky for allegedly supporting outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province continued to target security forces and local energy infrastructure. Spate of sniper attacks 2-9 Dec killed at least four soldiers in Bir al-Abd, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah areas; roadside bomb 18 Dec killed five soldiers south of Sheikh Zuweid town. Suspected jihadists 10 Dec blew up gas pipeline in Sabika area; 24 Dec detonated explosive at natural gas pipeline near Al-Arish city. Counter-insurgency operations continued in Sinai and elsewhere. Army 8 Dec said ground and air operations had killed 40 suspected jihadist militants since Sept across Sinai; next day struck jihadist group near border with Libya in west, reportedly destroying 21 vehicles. Govt continued to strengthen ties with informal anti-Turkey alliance. Joint naval exercise involving Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and United Arab Emirates took place 30 Nov-6 Dec off coast of Alexandria city; Sisi 6 Dec met with French President Macron in Paris to discuss regional issues, bilateral relations and military cooperation. FM 30 Dec said it had summoned Ethiopia’s top diplomat in Cairo after Addis Ababa 29 Dec said Cairo uses dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as “diversion from internal problems”.
President Sisi’s allies won vast majority of seats in parliament’s lower house, and security situation remained tense in Sinai peninsula. In late Oct and early Nov elections, pro-Sisi Mostaqbal Watan party won vast majority of 568 available seats in parliament’s lower house (28 more will be attributed by Sisi); turnout below 30%; run-offs to take place in late Nov and early Dec. In ongoing targeting of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, parliament’s legislative committee 1 Nov approved draft law that would dismiss any civil servants with ties to MB. In Sinai peninsula, armed forces continued to struggle to contain local jihadist insurgency, with Bir al-Abd area remaining major hotspot of violence. Explosive devices planted by Islamic State’s Sinai Province affiliate during its two-month occupation of villages west of Bir al-Abd town 4-9 Nov killed at least two soldiers and unknown number of civilians. Suspected Sinai Province militants 7 Nov kidnapped Coptic Christian in Bir al-Abd town. Suspected jihadists 13-14 Nov shot and killed two soldiers in Rafah area near border with Gaza Strip, 19 Nov struck gas pipeline near al-Arish town. New rounds of negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to produce agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters).
Govt faced increased international scrutiny for crackdown on dissent and jihadists continued to pose serious security threat in Sinai peninsula. Following Sept protests against corruption and govt’s illegal building demolition policy, NGO Amnesty International 2 Oct said security forces killed at least two demonstrators, and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali 12 Oct said authorities arrested around 2,000 people in relation to protests. Over 50 Democrat U.S. Congress members 19 Oct called on President Sisi to release political detainees; 200 European lawmakers 21 Oct followed suit, calling on Sisi to release human rights defenders, lawyers, political activists and other prisoners of conscience unjustly detained. NGO Human Rights Watch 22 Oct said 49 detainees including 15 political prisoners were executed 3-13 Oct, called on authorities to immediately halt carrying out death sentences; series of executions followed clashes last month inside death row ward at capital Cairo’s Scorpion prison that reportedly left four policemen and four inmates dead. In North Sinai, jihadist militants targeted soldiers, mainly through IEDs and ambushes; notably, IED 14 Oct killed soldier and wounded four others in Bir al-Abd area. On occasion of Armed Forces Day celebrations, residents of Bir al-Abd area – who were displaced in late July-early Aug when Islamic State (ISIS) Sinai Province took control of several villages – 6 Oct protested to demand right to return to their homes. In following weeks, at least 14 citizens were reportedly killed by IEDs upon returning to their villages, including six from same family 24 Oct; devices were allegedly planted by jihadists before fleeing. Govt late Sept to mid-Oct stepped up diplomatic engagement on Libyan crisis. After Hurghada city late Sept hosted military talks, which paved way for permanent ceasefire, delegations from Libya’s rival parliaments 11-13 Oct met in Cairo to discuss constitutional roadmap. Tripartite meeting on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam took place 27 Oct (see Nile Waters).
Demonstrations broke out across country calling for President Sisi to resign; security forces deployed in main cities in response. Hundreds of anti-Sisi protesters 20 Sept took to streets in capital Cairo, Alexandria, Aswan and Suez cities and smaller towns after Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali (who had sparked wave of protests in Sept 2019) called for new demonstrations against political repression, corruption and economic crisis and govt started implementing policy of demolishing unregistered houses. Protesters reportedly set presidential residence in Aswan on fire and attacked several police vehicles; security forces fired tear gas and arrested dozens. After several days of lower-scale demonstrations, thousands 25 Sept took to streets notably in Cairo, Giza and Luxor cities; one protester reportedly killed in unclear circumstances in Al-Blida village, Giza governorate. In days before protests, govt deployed security forces in main cities, particularly Cairo, where they reportedly carried out random checks and inspections of passers-by. Earlier in month, around 300 protesters 7 Sept gathered outside police station in Giza governorate to protest death in custody of shopkeeper, who was reportedly detained after refusing to bribe police officer on 5 Sept. Ahead of elections for lower house of parliament due to take place by end of year, main pro-Sisi party Mostaqbal Watan 13 Sept unveiled coalition of 16 parties. In North Sinai, military forces late Aug-early Sept reportedly regained control of several villages in Bir Al-Abd area seized by Islamic State (ISIS) in July. Negotiations with Ethiopia over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam remained at a standstill (see Nile Waters). High-level Egyptian delegation 14 Sept met with eastern Libya leaders Aguila Saleh and Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi city in Libya notably to discuss resumption of oil exports; Haftar 18 Sept agreed to lift months-long oil blockade and oil sales resumed 26 Sept (see Libya).
President Sisi continued to take steps to reinforce his power while insecurity persisted in North Sinai. In first round of Senate elections 11-12 Aug, pro-Sisi party Mustaqbal Watan secured overwhelming majority of seats in newly created upper chamber of parliament; most opposition parties boycotted ballot, which saw extremely low turnout at 15%; run-off vote scheduled for Sept. Amid economic downturn caused notably by COVID-19 pandemic, govt 16 Aug announced price hikes for public transportation in capital Cairo and next day reduced size of subsidised bread loaf from 110 to 90 grams, while keeping price unchanged. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province early Aug reportedly executed four civilians suspected of cooperating with army in Bir al-Abed city. Govt 30 Aug said army killed over 70 suspected jihadists in military operations in North Sinai 22 July-30 Aug; seven soldiers including three officers also killed. Egypt and Greece 6 Aug signed agreement on demarcation of their maritime border in Mediterranean Sea, creating exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights; deal reportedly came in response to similar deal between Turkey and Libyan Govt of National Accord (GNA) in 2019; GNA immediately said it will not allow any party to violate its maritime rights while Turkey said deal was “null and void” and later deployed seismic research vessel in disputed waters (see Cyprus). On-off negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on filling and operations of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam continued under African Union auspices; final agreement remains elusive as Cairo and Khartoum denounce Addis Ababa’s failure to commit to legally binding deal (see Nile Waters).
Army grappled with Islamic State in Sinai, while govt continued to threaten military intervention in Libya. In Sinai peninsula, army 21 July reportedly repelled suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province attack on military installation in Bir al-Abed area, leaving 18 militants and two soldiers dead, while ISIS claimed 40 soldiers killed during incident; in following days, military confronted militants who reportedly seized control of four nearby villages, killing at least one soldier and forcing residents to flee. Court of Cassation 14 July upheld life sentence for Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader Mohamed Badie and 186 other MB members on charges of attacking Minya city police station and killing policemen in 2013. Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali, whose online videos accusing President Sisi of misusing public funds sparked wave of protest in 2019, 9 July appeared in Madrid court on preliminary extradition hearing; Egyptian authorities late 2019 requested Ali’s extradition from Spain on tax evasion and money laundering charges. Govt took preparatory steps toward military intervention in neighbouring Libya against Turkish-backed forces loyal to UN-recognised Govt of National Accord. Army 9 July reportedly carried out major military exercise in Qabr Gabis area near Libyan border. In 13 July statement, members of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar-aligned House of Representatives called for Cairo’s military intervention in Libya, citing national security threat to both countries. In Cairo, Sisi 16 July met with Libyan tribal leaders favourable to military intervention. Parliament 20 July authorised troop deployment abroad “in defence of national security” (see Libya). African Union-facilitated negotiations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam 3-13 July failed to secure agreement (see Nile Waters).