Concern in Egypt as Muslim Brotherhood reveals ‘tactical goal’

Security agencies are reported to be revising all arrangements around the president following Abdel Fattah’s threat.
Sunday 09/09/2018
Security forces stand guard in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo. 	              (Reuters)
On alert. Security forces stand guard in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Egypt is on high alert after a Muslim Brotherhood figure revealed that the tactical goal of the outlawed Islamist movement, which has a history of killing political leaders, is to “get rid” of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Seif Abdel Fattah, a former adviser of ousted President Muhammad Morsi, told the Muslim Brotherhood channel Mekameleen TV that Sisi had become “dangerous” for Egypt.

“This man’s nature and the regional and international support he is receiving make him dangerous,” Abdel Fattah said. “This is why it is necessary to get rid of him.”

Abdel Fattah, a professor of political science at Cairo University who advised Morsi before his ouster in 2013 and then travelled to Turkey to join other Brotherhood figures in exile, said getting rid of Sisi was a prerequisite for the Brotherhood to return and “rescue” the country. Although Mekameleen TV is officially banned in Egypt, many Egyptians watch it online and Abdel Fattah’s comments were widely carried in the local media.

Sisi is viewed as an enemy by the Muslim Brotherhood for his central role in Morsi’s ouster and the group being banned. The Brotherhood no longer has a major public presence in Egypt because of a crackdown against the group. But there are concerns that there are operational underground Brotherhood cells.

Although Abdel Fattah’s recent statements are not new, they raised a firestorm in Cairo, especially within Egypt’s security establishment.

Security agencies are reported to be revising all arrangements around the president following Abdel Fattah’s threat.

“Such statements are being taken very seriously inside security agencies, which are renewing security arrangements around the president,” said Khaled Okasha, a member of the Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council, an advisory body of the Egyptian presidency. “They could be a signal for Brotherhood militias to start acting.”

Cairo said some terrorist groups operating in Egypt are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has been fighting against a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula for several years. Other local terrorist groups also operate on Egyptian soil, including some affiliated with the Brotherhood.

The reason the threats are being taken so seriously is that the Brotherhood has a history of assassinating Egyptian officials.

The Islamist group, which appeared as a charitable and educational organisation in 1928, assassinated Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud el-Nokrashy Pasha in 1948. The Jamaa Islamiya assassins who killed Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 were either former members of the Brotherhood or influenced by the group’s founders.

Brotherhood militias have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed many policemen and army personnel. In October 2016, a Brotherhood group said it killed an army lieutenant-general responsible for uncovering underground tunnels used by ISIS to smuggle arms and militants between Sinai and Gaza.

Links between the Brotherhood and ISIS Sinai were confirmed by the Egyptian military. In June 2013, Muslim Brotherhood senior figure Mohamed Beltagy said attacks by ISIS Sinai, which was called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis then, on Egyptian troops and police would stop only when Morsi returned to power. In June 2015, ISIS Sinai assassinated Egypt’s Prosecutor-General Hesham Barakat.

Analysts said it would take the Brotherhood coordination with more sophisticated terrorist organisations, such as ISIS, to attack Sisi.

“They cannot do this alone: otherwise they could have done it in the past years,” said Munir Adib, a specialist in the affairs of Islamist movements. “Abdel Fattah’s statements should be understood within the context of preparations by the Brotherhood to step up their violence in the coming days.”

Egyptian officials blamed a foiled attack on a church last month in eastern Cairo on the Brotherhood. A suicide bomber with links to the Brotherhood tried to enter the historic Virgin Mary Church in Mostorod but was stopped by guards. He set off a bomb outside the church.

Sisi is serving his second term as president. The Brotherhood’s threat raises questions about presidential succession in Egypt, with the next elections due in 2022.

“The Brotherhood is well aware that it will be bringing an end to its political presence in Egypt forever if it ventures into assassinating the president,” said Sameh Eid, another expert on Islamist and terrorist groups. “Nevertheless, Sisi’s tenure [as president] will come to an end, which means we need to start thinking seriously of who should succeed him.”