Earlier this month, the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a massive media campaign in support of the insurgency in Sinai. Officials from 14 of its so-called provinces in Iraq, Libya, and Syria released videos promoting an Egyptian affiliate group, Sinai Province. The videos feature typical ISIS themes, such as condemnations of apostate Arab and Western governments, glorification of successful attacks, and praise for martyred brethren. What sets these videos apart, however, is the sheer number released at once, as well as their focus on Sinai, which previously played a relatively minor role in ISIS propaganda.
This media blitz could mark a turning point in ISIS strategy. The group has lost territory in Iraq and Syria, and the videos could signal a reorientation toward North Africa. ISIS may also be trying to boost morale and recruit new members. Finally, the releases could portend ISIS’ growing interest in Israel, and might suggest that the country could be the caliphate’s next target.
The series warns Egyptians against adopting the “new religion” of democracy, and urge them to “wake up and realize [their] salvation is with sharia.” They play up Sinai’s location as the “land of the prophet Moses,” denounce Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as a new Pharaoh, and curse him for “protecting the Jews.”
From ISIS’ perspective, targeting an Egyptian audience makes sense. First, the organization may sense that Egyptians are ripe for recruitment, as the government’s economic failings and crackdown on dissent have eroded Sisi’s popularity. Moreover, the Brotherhood—once a formidable political force—has become a tainted brand. Its political party was only able to hold power for one year, and thousands of its members have since been jailed by the current regime. ISIS can take advantage of that vacuum by promoting Sinai Province, framing it as the most effective vehicle for Egyptians to undermine Sisi’s regime.
The videos’ emphasis on Sinai may also be setting the stage for a large-scale attack. Indeed, just a day after releasing the last of the videos, ISIS claimed responsibility for a shooting attack on the outskirts of Cairo. The assault killed eight plainclothes police officers, and was the deadliest terrorist incident in the capital since 2013. A dramatic attack against Israel may also be in the works: the Israeli military is reportedly preparing for a major strike from Sinai that could even include tanks or artillery.