Egypt fears new wave of Muslim Brotherhood violence

There is concern that disaffected young Egyptians could become radicalised, injecting new blood into the fight.
Sunday 19/08/2018
Members of the Egyptian security forces form a perimeter at the scene of a suicide bombing in Mostorod in eastern Cairo, on August 11. (AFP)
Persistent threat. Members of the Egyptian security forces form a perimeter at the scene of a suicide bombing in Mostorod in eastern Cairo, on August 11. (AFP)

CAIRO - A foiled attack on a church in eastern Cairo confirmed that the terrorist threat posed by radical Islamist groups in Egypt, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, remains high despite a heavy nationwide security crackdown, analysts warned.

A suicide bomber, whom local media linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, tried to enter the historic Virgin Mary Church in Mostorod in eastern Cairo on August 11. Security personnel outside the church stopped the intruder and the 29-year-old man set off a bomb outside of the church, killing himself. There were no civilian casualties.

Although no group claimed responsibility for the attack, security analysts quickly fingered the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as being behind it.

After the attack, security forces arrested seven people suspected of involvement in planning the bombing.

“The (Brotherhood) movement is still alive and able to pose serious threats to the security of our country,” said retired Egyptian General Gamal Eddin Mazloum. “We should not be deceived by the Brotherhood’s exit from politics or the ostensible weakening of its terrorist arms.”

The attack outside the Coptic church in Mostorod was the latest in a long series of violent acts by groups believed to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood since the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in an army-backed popular uprising in 2013. Several Brotherhood-affiliated groups emerged after the uprising, including many who targeted Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. Others attacked police and army personnel.

Egypt has also been fighting a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula, splitting the national security establishment’s focus to fight on numerous fronts.

One of the challenges facing Egypt’s security forces in cracking down on violent Brotherhood factions is the lack of criminal records for most of the group’s members.

“This made it almost impossible for security agencies to know the people who stood behind the repeated attacks that took place nationwide,” said Sameh Eid, a Brotherhood dissident who has become an expert in jihadist groups in Egypt. “This meant that these agencies were required to fight an enemy about whom they had no information whatsoever.”

Nonetheless, security forces uncovered many members of the movement. The fear is, however, that disaffected young Egyptians could become radicalised, injecting new blood into the fight.

The August 11 attack proves that radical Islamist terrorism poses a potent threat in Egypt and it will likely be followed by other attempts by the Brotherhood to destabilise Egypt, analysts warned.

“There are good reasons to assume that a surge in Brotherhood violence will happen in the coming days, weeks or months,” Mazloum said. “The movement needs to prove that it is still present and its organisational structure far from dead.”

The Mostorod attack coincided with statements by a Muslim Brotherhood renegade to an Egyptian private TV channel intimating that the threat is far from over.

Emad Abo Hashim, a former judge who fled to Turkey following Morsi’s ouster where he joined the pro-Brotherhood Judges for Egypt group, said the Brotherhood had a well-calculated plan to destabilise Egypt. The Brotherhood’s organisational structure and decision-making bodies, Abo Hashim told the private Sada el-Balad channel, are still functioning.

Almost all the members of the first line of Brotherhood leadership, including the movement’s supreme guide, his deputies and Morsi, are in Egyptian jails. However, many members of the second line of leadership fled to Turkey, Qatar or the United Kingdom and could still pose a threat.

National security agencies warned that Muslim Brotherhood operatives in Egypt were receiving funding from abroad to carry out attacks.

The seven suspected militants arrested in the church attack have been charged with plotting a “series of hostilities” against national security. One of the female suspects, the Interior Ministry said, was living in an upscale Cairo neighbourhood and “played a prominent role… in promoting extremist ideas and providing financial support.”

One day after the arrests, police killed six Brotherhood militants outside Cairo. The militants reportedly had arms and explosives and were apparently preparing for a series of attacks, police said.

One of the challenges Egypt faces in limiting Brotherhood violence is to eradicate the organisation and its ideology, not its members.

“The mistake the security establishment committed as it faced the Brotherhood was that it fought the dangerous members of the group but hardly tried to fight its ideology,” said Mounir Adib, an expert on Islamist movements. “To fight this ideology, Egypt needs more than just a security crackdown.”