Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The fifth wave

Egypt has faced five cycles of terrorism since the emergence of political Islam as a national force, the last still ongoing though surmountable, writes Ammar Ali Hassan

Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite the recent success of the presidential elections it appears that it will still take painstaking efforts on the part of Egypt’s new political leadership to break the back of the three terrorist belts that currently surround the country.

As we consider what needs to be done, it is important to take stock of how terrorism evolved over the past decades and, specifically, since the Muslim Brotherhood slipped into the course of political violence. When the Muslim Brotherhood was initially established in the late 1920s, its stated purpose was to serve as a religious educational and philanthropic organisation dedicated to instilling the principles and teachings of Islam among its members so as to counter the phenomenon of the evangelistic missionaries that had begun to spread in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century. Contrary these original declared intentions, soon after it was founded it began to engage in political activities and several years later it verged into terrorism. Since the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and along with the whole panoply of Islamist groups, factions and organisations that emerged from its fold, Egypt has experienced five waves of terrorism, as follows:

- The 1940s wave. Among the most notorious incidents during this wave were the assassination of Judge Ahmed Al-Khazendar in revenge for a ruling he had issued against some MB members, the assassination of Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmi Al-Nuqrashi and the attack against the famous writer Abbas Mahmoud Al-Aqqad who, in an article, had charged that the Muslim Brothers were a masonic sect. There followed a number of other assaults which culminated in the assassination of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, himself, Hassan Al-Banna, in 1949. When one contemplates the church burnings and the other types of violence that flared after the 30 June Revolution, and when one recalls the Muslim Brotherhood’s frequent threats to “burn Egypt” in the weeks before the results of the second round of the 2012 presidential elections were announced, one can not help but to conclude that they were probably responsible for the “great Cairo fire” that erupted in 1952. The possibility is definitely worth closer and more extensive study.

-  The wave of the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, the Muslim Brotherhood locked horns with the political regime that emerged following the July 1952 Revolution. Initially, the Brotherhood allied with the regime and encouraged it to abolish multiparty democracy. But the two sides eventually clashed when it became clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was bent on subordinating the Free Officers Movement to its own political/ideological project. The most famous incident during this period was the attempted assassination of President Abdel-Nasser in the Manshiya quarter of Alexandria in 1954. Another outbreak of Muslim Brotherhood acts of violence in 1965 culminated in the arrest of the cell led by Sayed Qotb who, along with several other leaders, was sentenced to death. The current Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide was, by his own admission, a member of that cell.

3- The wave of the 1970s. During this period, small extremist groups such as the Technical Military Academy group (Fanneya Askariya) that had planned to stage a coup, the Excommunication and Exodus group (Al-Takfir wal-Hijra) and a faction of the Islamic Liberation Party were responsible for a spate of political violence and terrorism. This was also when The Islamic Group (Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya) and the Egyptian Jihad organisation emerged. Sadat used these groups to counter his opponents from the left, giving rise to attacks against university students and left-wing intellectuals. This wave culminated in the assassination of Sadat on 6 October 1981, a prime example of the backfiring of this political magic potion.

4- The wave of the 1980s and 1990s. The terrorism during this period was primarily the making of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and the remnants of the Jihad organisation. It began in 1988 and brought the attempted assassinations of Prime Minister Atef Sidqi and other ministers and some writers; the actual assassinations of People’s Assembly speaker Rifaat Al-Mahgoub and writer Farag Fouda, and the attempted murder of Naguib Mahfouz, the murder of hundreds of tourists and thousands of civilians, and the death of hundreds of policemen in confrontations between security agencies and extremists. The wave culminated with the massacre of tourists in Luxor in 1997 after which Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya began an initiative to halt the violence.

5- The current wave. This began during the Morsi presidency with the killing of soldiers in Sinai, the blockades of the Supreme Constitutional Court and Media Production City, and the burning of the Wafd Party’s headquarters and the entrance to Al-Watan newspaper premises. It continued after the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood rule in the form of the succession of terrorist attacks we are still experiencing. These differ in certain respects from their predecessors. They are more “global”, which is to say that non-Egyptian individuals and organisations are also responsible for carrying them out, as is the case especially in Sinai. They are also more violent, employing means that have not previously been used in Egypt, such as car bombs. The current violence is more focussed on a specific goal, shaped by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood had had a taste of power, and those who are carrying out are more daring and rebellious, having abandoned their historic caution.

With the current wave, Egypt is threatened by three existing or potential terrorist belts. The first is an outer belt that surrounds the whole country and consists of: the jihadist takfiri groups in eastern Libya; a government close to the Muslim Brotherhood in Khartoum; and the government of Hamas in Gaza. In Libya, which shares an approximately 1,000 kilometre long border with Egypt, jihadist groups have openly declared their hostility towards Egypt and have threatened cross border attacks, or have placed themselves at the service of groups close to the Muslim Brotherhood that is using them to take revenge against the current authorities in Egypt. It is therefore not surprising to hear of the proclamation of an organisation called the Islamic State of Libya and Egypt (ISLE), modelled after ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Particularly worrisome about the Libyan part of the outer belt is its geographic depth into the Sahara Desert, stretching beyond Libya across southern Algeria to Mali, Niger, Chad and even Senegal. In parts of this area, one finds the remnants of Al-Qaeda for the Islamic Maghreb organisation whose project to create an Islamic statelet in northern Mali was halted by French intervention. If General Haftar succeeds in his campaign to extend the control of his forces over Libyan territory he will have succeeded in defeating the threat from Libya and alleviating the burden on Egypt.

To the south, the Islamist government in Khartoum has allowed many Muslim Brotherhood leaders fleeing from Egypt to take up residence in Sudan or assisted in their flight to Qatar or Turkey. Because of Khartoum’s recurrent claims to the Halayeb Triangle and because of differences between Cairo and Khartoum over Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam project, the southern front remains tense and potentially hostile, especially in light of the current Sudanese regime’s habit of fabricating outside problems to distract Sudanese from their conditions at home.

Hamas, in Gaza, is actually a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has long accused it of feeding terrorism in Sinai by means of smuggling arms and operatives through the Gaza-Sinai tunnels. The Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis organisation, which has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks in Egypt, is of Palestinian origin and is one of the jihadist organisations in Gaza.

The second belt surrounds Cairo and is shaped by the growing presence of Salafi, jihadist and Muslim Brotherhood members in the surrounding governorates, such as Fayyum and rural Giza, Qaliubiya and Sharqiya.

The third belt consists of the informal settlement quarters that arose due to poverty, the ruralisation of the city and the government’s withdrawal from providing housing. These quarters surround the districts inhabited by the middle and upper middle classes, which generally espouse more liberal or open-minded ideas and which, hence, voted against the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters in the various electoral rounds since January 2011.

If dismantling this belt requires a comprehensive plan that will take a long time to implement, as it will need to cover education, economic development, culture and the institutions that produce religious rhetoric, I nevertheless believe that the current wave will eventually recede after a while and yield another ideological revision. After all, crime does not pay and terrorism does not create a state. This particularly applies to a country whose people have constantly proven impervious to intimidation and who refused to allow all the fear tactics used by the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters to dissuade them from taking to the streets in the millions on 30 June last year in order to bring down Muslim Brotherhood rule.

With the presidential elections, two essential stages of the post-30 June roadmap have been completed. With the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the outer walls against terrorism and organised violence will be complete. After this, there will remain the realisation of social justice within the framework of comprehensive development, and respect for civil liberties and human rights will be needed to fill the space between these walls with the substance needed to erode terrorism and its associated belts and cycles.

The writer is a political analyst

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