ISIS attacks exacerbate Egypt’s daunting challenges

Sunday 16/04/2017
Compounded challenge. An armed policeman secures the Coptic church in Tanta. (Reuters)

Cairo - A surge in attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) on Christians adds to Egypt’s woes, lessens chances for economic recovery and makes it difficult for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to keep the country’s people united, experts said.
“Repeated attacks spread frustra­tion and scare investors away,” said Sherine al-Shawarby, an economics professor at Cairo University. “In­vestments are crucial for the econo­my to go back on track, job creation and the execution of development plans.”
ISIS claimed responsibility for su­icide bombers attacking churches in the northern coastal city of Al­exandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. The attacks April 9 killed 45 people and wounded 150 others.
In December, a suicide bomber set off explosives in a Cairo chapel, only metres from the Coptic Papal Seat.
Apart from being a personal af­front to Sisi the attacks dim chanc­es for the recovery of the economy, experts said.
Tourism was gradually rebound­ing in Egypt in recent months after being devastated by flight suspen­sions following ISIS’s bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Novem­ber 2015 over Sinai.
An active tourism sector would spur the economy and provide as­surances about security, which al­tered the bitter realities of Egypt’s economic conditions, experts said.
Egypt’s inflation rate has reached 32.5%, its unemployment rate is 12.5% and poverty rate 27.8%, among the highest in decades.
“These are shocking figures that show the tough conditions of the economy,” Shawarby said. “Secu­rity threats were actually the last thing Egypt needed.”
Sisi has not appeared in public since becoming president in mid- 2014 without stressing the need for public unity in the face of the dan­gers facing Egypt. He repeatedly said he could not face these dangers alone.
“The problem is that ISIS attacks are focused on those who most support the president, sowing the seeds of anger among them,” said Samir Ghattas, a lawmaker and an expert on Islamic militancy. “It seems as if the radical group is pun­ishing them for this support.”
Egypt’s Christians, around 10% of the population, are among Sisi’s most staunch supporters. However, their support seems to be drying up because of what some Christians see as Egypt’s failure to protect them.
Following the April 9 church at­tacks, Christians beat a senior se­curity official and kicked him out of the Tanta church that had been bombed hours earlier. Some of them chanted slogans critical of the Egyptian president.
Sisi visited Coptic Pope Tawadros II on April 13 to offer condolences and vowed to eradicate terrorism. At the meeting, the pope said ter­rorism would fail in its efforts to di­vide the country and said harmony and love are needed to ensure the safety of Egyptians.
Nevertheless, added to tough economic conditions, which are having a toll on support for Sisi on the streets, the attacks on Chris­tians weaken the people’s unity, experts said.
“This is very dangerous because a disunited nation can be easily broken, while it faces all these chal­lenges,” Ghattas said, “but I am sure Sisi can keep the people united de­spite all these challenges.”