CAIRO - The release Wednesday of seven conscripts kidnapped by suspected extremists in Sinai brought a victory for Egypt's Islamist president after months of criticism that his government was mismanaging the country.
Seated with top military brass and senior officials, an animated Mohammed Morsi lauded the release as a show of how unified and strong his leadership was and urged his opponents to work with his government in dealing with Egypt's multiple crises.
Despite the end of the nearly weeklong kidnapping drama, Morsi's government has left unresolved the issue of widespread lawlessness and growing power of Islamic extremists in the Sinai peninsula. Key questions remained over how the release of the six police conscripts and a military border guard was negotiated and whether the extremists suspected of kidnapping them will be pursued.
Critics warned that the resolution only boosted extremists. The biggest winners from the crisis may be hard-line Islamists on whom Morsi relies for political support and who said they played a role in mediating the release.
The captives were released early Wednesday in the middle of the desert in northern Sinai. They had been abducted last Thursday, sparking widespread public anger over the state's inability to rein in armed groups in the peninsula. The outrage was fueled when a video of the seven was released showing them bound and on the ground, pleading for Morsi to meet the kidnappers' demands for the release of detainees from Sinai, including convicted extremists.
A military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, said the release came about as a "result of efforts by military intelligence, in cooperation with the honorable tribal leaders and Sinai residents." Alongside the mediation, the military and security forces had carried out a large buildup of troops in Sinai as a show of strength.
Morsi took center stage at a televised ceremony for the conscripts. He promised the kidnappers would be hunted down.
Last August, just over a month after Morsi took office, extremists killed 16 Egyptian soldiers along the border with Gaza and Israel. The culprits are still unidentified.