Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Destabilising developments

Egypt’s problems are compounding, ringing alarm bells ahead of painful economic adjustments that could upturn what remains of the country’s political stability, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt is no stranger to terrorism. With the Muslim Brotherhood group turning to violence in the second half of the 1940s, Egypt witnessed many terrorist attacks against politicians, policemen and judges. In the 1970s, new armed groups emerged and resorted to terrorism, like Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and Al-Jihad group. The fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan became a magnet for thousands of young Egyptian members of these groups, or they were motivated to join armed groups fighting under the banner of political Islam. Once the Soviets were out, they became over-zealous militants and terrorists with the aim of fighting the United States, which had sponsored them, with the direct, generous and unquestioned help of some Arab governments, including Egypt under former president Anwar Al-Sadat. Ironically, they assassinated him on 6 October 1981.

In more than 60 years of coexisting with terrorism within Egypt, no single terrorist attack had been planned and directed against the Egyptian military save, of course, the ongoing war in Sinai against Daesh-affiliated groups. On Saturday, 22 October, however, terrorism in Egypt took an ominous and dangerous twist that will expectedly change the calculus of the government in how to face armed groups operating in the country with impunity. On this fateful day, three masked men, armed with automatic weapons shot and assassinated the commanding officer of the Ninth Armoured Division of the Egyptian army, based west of Cairo. He was leaving home to report to his military command. Egypt fell into shock. As is often the case, unfortunately, the three terrorists fled the scene, neither chased nor arrested.

The Egyptian president called for an emergency meeting that was attended by the prime minister, the ministers of interior and foreign affairs, the director of the Egyptian Intelligence Services and other officials. The communique that was published after the meeting did not contain any surprises, or the announcement of new security measures to foil, as much as possible, terrorist attacks against government officials and the military. No new budget appropriations were announced for the security services, whether to increase their personnel (particularly the police) or to provide them with the training and weapons necessary to enable them to face the new tactics of various terrorist groups. No talk whatsoever of installing CTTV surveillance cameras around Cairo, and particularly the escape routes out of Cairo. One surprising twist in the new wave of terrorism that has struck Egypt after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule in 2013 is that the new road infrastructure of highways has regrettably made it easier for terrorists to mount attacks against the police and other targets and flee the scene swiftly.

The assassination of the commanding officer of the Ninth Armoured Division was all the more saddening and surprising for it took place a few days after a big military encounter with Sinai terrorists in which 12 Egyptian soldiers lost their lives. Meanwhile, almost a month ago, a group of terrorists failed in targeting former Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa in a Cairo suburb while on his way to the mosque for Friday noon prayers. This failed assassination attempt should have been a warning to the security services to beef up protection around prominent officials and army officers who have been targeted by armed groups operating in the name of the Muslim Brotherhood, even if they keep operating under different names. Days later, the assistant attorney general narrowly escaped assassination by way of a car full of explosives. The car was parked for two days near his home before it exploded.

This came two days after the daring escape of three dangerous Sinai terrorists from a prison in Ismailia. The three were arrested days earlier trying to smuggle weapons into Sinai. According to news reports, the escape was an inside job.

The deteriorating security situation comes against growing economic and financial crises, and two weeks before a call for huge demonstrations on 11 November, or “11/11,” which has become a battle cry for opponents of the Egyptian government. Many Egyptians, who are loathe to relive the events of 2011 and 2012, have become worried that the country could descend into chaos on that day.

On the other hand, the political situation is stagnant for various reasons, the most important of which is the fact that the House of Representatives has not functioned in a way that would endear it to the Egyptian people, and did not pass any legislation, so far, that would make life easier for most Egyptians. In the meantime, political parties are nowhere to be seen by Egyptians, though their job is to articulate the aspirations and hopes of Egyptians in a forceful manner, either inside parliament or publicly.

All told, the country is almost stagnant economically as well as politically. All economic indicators give cause for alarm, weeks or a few months before the devaluation of the Egyptian pound as a condition to get an IMF loan. Needless to say, such a decision will have a major impact on political stability in Egypt. The decision will be taken after a year of successive price hikes in almost everything, particularly food and electricity prices. Another alarming move, expected in the next six to eight months, will be the increase of the price of fuel at the pump. It is no surprise, then, that the poverty rate in Upper Egypt has risen to 56 per cent.

We still have 18 months to go before the next presidential elections in May 2018. The window of opportunity to deal effectively with our myriad security, economic and political problems is closing by the day. But miracles sometimes happen.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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