Egypt raises state of alert, wary of Qatar crisis backlash

Sunday 18/06/2017
On highest alert. A member of the special police forces stands guard in Cairo. (Reuters)

Cairo- Egypt is preparing for back­lash over its decision to cut diplomatic ties with Doha in response to Qa­tar’s alleged financing of terrorist groups, raising the state of alert and beefing up security across the country.
“There are expectations that the pace of terrorist operations will accelerate after Egypt cut its dip­lomatic ties with Qatar,” said Mo­hamed Bilal, former Egyptian Army deputy chief of staff.
Cairo accused Doha of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which it has designated as a ter­rorist organisation. Several Broth­erhood figures, including many convicted in absentia of terrorism-related offences, sought refuge in Qatar.
“Qatar is directly involved in funding terrorist operations in Egypt and I think the authorities will come up with proof of this in the coming days,” said Bilal, who was commander of Egypt’s forces during the 1991 Gulf War.
A senior security official in­formed Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency of government fears that unspecified terrorist groups could seek to use “regional developments” to launch attacks in Egypt.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry raised the level of alert around the coun­try, including beefing up secu­rity near likely targets, such as police stations, banks, embassies and places of worship, especially churches and monasteries.
The ministry said there would be increased security at railway and bus stations, as well as at the Suez Canal, Nile High Dam, seaports and border crossings.
Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority has been the target of several ter­rorist operations in recent months. Islamic State (ISIS) militants on May 26 killed 29 Christian pilgrims travelling to a monastery in Egypt’s central Minya province.
“Regional developments make it necessary for security agencies to take measures to prevent ex­pected retaliation,” said retired po­lice General Mamdouh al-Kidawni. “Egypt is hitting Qatar hard by di­vulging its links to terrorism in a number of countries but Doha will not stand idly by.”
Although Egypt followed Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in severing diplo­matic ties with Qatar on June 5, Cairo had consistently complained about Doha’s links to terrorism and biased coverage of Egyptian affairs by Qatari-backed media.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain issued a list of 59 people and 12 entities believed to be tied to terrorism financing. The list includ­ed 26 Egyptian nationals, including prominent figures such as Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sheikh Yu­suf al-Qaradawi and Islamist mili­tant figure Tarek al-Zumar.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made his position on Qatar an essential topic of discussion in his meetings and conversations with world leaders. During a tele­phone conversation with US Presi­dent Donald Trump, both leaders stressed the importance of com­bating terrorism financing. During a meeting with German Chancel­lor Angela Merkel in Germany on June 12, Sisi highlighted the need for greater international resolve to confront countries that fund and support terrorism.
Gehad Abdel Malik, professor of political science at Egypt’s Helwan University, said Cairo likely want­ed to take stronger action against Doha for years but had been sty­mied by external pressures.
“Egypt’s chance to take this action came only when Gulf states reached the same con­clusion, namely that Qatar had turned into a destabilising factor in the region,” he said.
With Doha facing increasing re­gional isolation and its back against the wall, however, Egypt is con­cerned about possible repercus­sions.
“Security agencies now have the additional challenge of ensuring that their plans can cope with this threat,” Bilal said. “The problem is that you never know where the ter­rorists will hit next.”