Alleged plot keeps Egypt’s Sisi from Arab summit

Sunday 31/07/2016
A September 2015 file photo shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) arriving for the 70th session of the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters.

Cairo - Experts — some with links to the country’s security apparatus — claimed that Egyptian intelligence had information that jihadist groups linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) had targeted Egyptian Presi­dent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the re­cent Arab summit in Mauritania.
The Egyptian presidency de­nied the plot reports; however, its failure to give reasons for Sisi’s absence from the meeting fuelled conspiracy rumours. Sisi could have merely decided, such as other prominent Arab rulers, including Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Jordanian King Abdul­lah II, not to go to Nouakchott.
“News of the plot was true but the presidency has denied it to avoid making the public worry,” said Mamdouh al-Kidwani, a re­tired police major-general and the former governor of Sohag province.
Kidwani claimed Moroccan au­thorities had information that Sisi would have been targeted last March in Morocco, where the 2016 Arab summit was first scheduled.
Sisi had planned to travel to Nouakchott after Mauritania was asked to host the summit when Morocco declined. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt’s Foreign minister from 2004-11, led the sessions for the first time.
There is little information about why Sisi would have been assas­sinated but security experts say Egyptian security personnel had information about moves by ji­hadist groups linked to the Mus­lim Brotherhood, also powerful in Mauritania, and the ISIS to attack Sisi in Nouakchott.
“One likely scenario for his assas­sination would have been an attack on his motorcade as he travelled from the airport to the summit lo­cation,” said Ahmed al-Awadi, a member of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee. “Sisi is on the hit list of terrorist or­ganisations.”
There are sceptics, including Khaled Okasha, a retired police lieutenant-general, who ruled out the assassination scenario as a rea­son behind Sisi’s absence from the summit. He claimed Sisi kept away from the summit because the event would not be attended by most Arab leaders.
“This was the real reason why he did not attend,” Okasha said. “He [Sisi] knew that if he went there, he would be one of few leaders show­ing up.”
Political experts said the Egyp­tian leader had reasons not to risk his personal safety to attend an event that marked the official de­mise of everything he toiled to achieve during the past two years, including his proposal for the for­mation of an Arab military force.
Sisi had been calling for forming the force since he rose to power in 2014. He officially proposed it in March 2015 during an Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. The force was not, however, on the agenda of the Nouakchott summit, even as King Salman pledged to go ahead with it when he was in Cairo in April.
“The president had enough evi­dence that the summit would not be worth the pain of travelling,” said Tarek Fahmy, a political sci­ence professor at the American University in Cairo. “This was also the reason why most Arab leaders did not show up.”
The Egyptian Interior Ministry refused to comment on the plot re­ports but local experts said the se­curity situation in Mauritania gives credence to the allegations.
The country is vulnerable to ter­rorist destabilisation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in a research paper in February 2016. It added that, relative to its population, no other country in the Sahel and Sahara region produces as many jihadist ideologues and high-ranking terrorist operatives as Mauritania.
Sisi is an avowed enemy of Is­lamist movements. He crushed the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful Islamist movement. Sisi also battles an ISIS-linked insur­gency in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
This is probably why he seems obsessed with his personal secu­rity, even as he told visiting US con­gressmen in March 2015 that he did not fear suffering the fate of late president Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated during a military pa­rade in 1971.
Sisi shrouds his movements in­side his country with secrecy. His moves inside Egypt become known only when they happen.
Nevertheless, he does every­thing possible to hide his security obsession. He recently said, as he attended the graduation of new military pilots, that he was told by army leaders that the graduates would use live ammunition dur­ing the ceremony. “I told them [the army leaders] that this is nothing I can fear from,” Sisi said.
It seems, however, that there was something he feared in Nouak­chott. Zunt said Sisi heeded intel­ligence warnings against going there.
“It would have been difficult for his bodyguards to secure him in a country like Mauritania,” Zunt said. “This became even more difficult after the assassination plot tran­spired.”