It could have been Syria, but it was Egypt, last week. Black jihadist flags, inset with the white oblong cartouche favoured by Syrian affiliates of al-Qaeda, were being waved above a cheering crowd. An angry speaker addressed the masses.
“We need to form a council of war,” he shouted, sounding hoarse from excitement. “The era of peace has ended. If the army attack us we will attack back. We say to the Egyptian army that the day might yet come when we tell it to leave Sinai.”
It was not an idle threat. Last Friday, as firework-hurling youths loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood vented their rage at the army’s removal of their president, Mohammed Morsi, another crowd marched on the governor’s palace in el-Arish. The northern Sinai town was once heralded as the next big thing in Egyptian tourism, a Mediterranean version of Red Sea resorts like Sharm el-Sheikh. No longer: it is now better known as a destination for weapons than for red-faced Britons and Germans stealing the sun-loungers.
The crowd, demanding Mr Morsi’s return, drove off the guards, stormed the palace and raised another black flag on the roof. In all, five policemen and a soldier were killed across Sinai at the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, Mina Aboud Sharween, a priest serving el-Arish’s Coptic Christian community, was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorbike. All this went almost unnoticed in the international media.