Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

On high alert

Security forces tighten their grip ahead of Eastern Christmas and the referendum over the constitution, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

In light of the continuation of banned protests and last week’s government declaration that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation, security experts believe that the Interior Ministry has become overtaxed confronting the newly-labelled terrorists who demonstrate under the umbrella of the Brotherhood.  

In a press conference held on 25 December, Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa said the cabinet declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group, making it subject to Article 86 of the Egyptian penal code, which defines terrorism and the penalties for engaging in it.

In a move that came in accordance with the new declaration, Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif said that the penalty for leading a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration will be life imprisonment, even if it is a woman, while a five-year jail term awaits for participating in it.

The cabinet decision declaring the MB a terrorist group was issued after last week’s car bombing in Daqahliya security directorate that left at least 15 people killed. Although Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack, the MB was publicly and officially condemned. The government blames the Brotherhood for orchestrating attacks on its buildings and security personnel since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July though the MB denied the accusations as groundless.

“The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup strongly condemns the criminal incident which has targeted the innocent sons of Egypt,” the alliance said in a statement. The statement also stressed that their protests were peaceful. “We stress that peacefulness is the national alliance’s sole choice to defend the legitimacy of the Egyptian people,” the statement added. “The Egyptian revolution is peaceful.”

Nearly 350 police and soldiers have been killed in bombings and shootings since Mohamed Morsi was deposed as president, most of them in the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamist radicals expanded into a security vacuum left by Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in early 2011.

Abdel-Latif said: “Anyone who promotes verbally or in writing the ideas of the group or possesses leaflets or recordings of those ideas will be sentenced to five years imprisonment. And anyone who will assume a leadership position within the group or provides it with funds or information will be sentenced to life imprisonment.”

Another bomb exploded on Thursday, on Mustafa Al-Nahhas Street in Nasr City, an affluent suburb of eastern Cairo, close to an Al-Azhar University building where student protests are continuing daily. The bomb, which injured five people, at least one seriously, was designed to target security forces, the director of the Interior Ministry’s explosives department has said.

On Sunday, a bomb exploded outside an Egyptian military intelligence building at Anshas, Sharqiya governorate, wounding four soldiers.

Taking into consideration the repeated terrorist bombings, revolutionary youth groups, while condemning the terrorist attacks, accused the country’s interim authorities of failing to maintain security in the country.

“The ministry will not ease its crackdown on terrorist groups that aim to intimidate citizens in order to hinder the roadmap,” Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said. Ibrahim also said that police will step up security, and special teams have been instructed to look for explosives near crowded areas on main streets, such as schools and universities, in coordination with the Armed Forces.

“The Ministry of Interior will stand up to demonstrations that are staged by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood members,” added Ibrahim. “These demonstrations now violate the law.”

The next step in the roadmap, which is the most challenging one for the security apparatus, is to safely hold the referendum of the newly amended constitution on 14 and 15 January. In defiance, the Brotherhood has vowed to block the referendum by protesting.

Al-Ahram Weekly learned that the Ministry of Interior in cooperation with the Armed Forces is ready to secure this month’s referendum after conducting a simulation of the referendum. Police and soldiers are being trained on all the expected scenarios during the referendum, including confronting demonstrations which are now not allowed without prior approval from the Interior Ministry. The simulation will be aired within days so as to reassure voters.

“The upcoming constitutional referendum will pass safely amid intensified security,” Assistant Minister of Interior for Information Abdel-Fattah Othman told Al-Ahram Weekly. Assistant Interior Minister for Security Ahmed Helmi said that the referendum would go on, “no matter what”.

“We will not allow any disruption of the referendum,” Helmi told Al-Arabiya channel. “We will safeguard the judges and the ballot boxes, and we will not interfere unless called on by the judges.”

The MB considered the Mansoura attack “a direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people and demands an enquiry forthwith so that the perpetrators of this crime may be brought to justice.”

“It will be used as a pretext for ‘a new bloodbath’ [against Islamists] ahead of the referendum on the amended 2012 Islamist-drafted constitution,” said the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party on its official Facebook page.

Prior to the referendum comes Eastern Christmas, a strong challenge for security people because terrorist attacks are expected. Abdel-Latif said that “strict” security measures will be taken around churches during New Year’s Eve and the Eastern Christmas services.

“The ministry will deploy both stationary and mobile patrols in addition to other security measures to secure churches during services,” Abdel-Latif said. The spokesman in addition denied that the ministry had requested that churches end their services earlier than usual.

Two attacks on churches were staged in recent years during New Year’s Eve and Eastern Christmas celebrations. On the eve of 7 January 2010, a shooting outside Nagaa Hammadi Church in Qena resulted in nine deaths and 11 injuries. A bombing in Al-Qidissayn (The Two Saints) Church in Sidi Bishr, Alexandria during the early hours of 1 January 2011 resulted in 23 deaths and 97 injuries. The latest attack on a church occurred on 21 October when unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a wedding at a church in the Giza neighbourhood of Al-Warraq, leaving four dead and 17 injured.

“Unprecedented security measures are in place to protect churches during holidays,” Othman said, adding that the Coptic community will enjoy safe holidays and can look forward to celebrating as usual.

Cabinet spokesman Hani Salah added that the cabinet expects “terrorist attacks incited by the Muslim Brotherhood” during Eastern Christmas celebrations on 6 and 7 January. “The Brotherhood will take advantage of the celebrations to sow chaos and falsely display that the government is not able to secure houses of worship, especially Christian churches,” Salah told the CBC satellite channel in a phone interview.

Salah added that the Brotherhood will try to show “the outside world” that the Egyptian state is unable to protect its citizens, especially Christians.

Commenting on the recurring terrorist attacks, the Tamarod (Rebel) group said: “No reconciliation and no empathy with terrorism”.

“No tolerance for the impotent and failing government which acts with trembling hands,” added the group which spearheaded the 30 June mass nationwide protests that led to Morsi’s ouster.

The 6 April activist movement also called for holding officials accountable for not preventing the attack. “Those responsible for [not stopping] the attack must be held accountable for their negligence in protecting citizens and vital installations,” the group’s spokesman Khaled Al-Masri said in a statement.

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