Egypt's war on terror

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Egypt’s war on terror

After many attacks, the government is trying to control terrorism. But this seems to bring less stability. Chalaine Chang reports.


Protests against Morsi in central Cairo, Egypt. (Gigi Ibrahim under a Creative Commons Licence)

Recently, there has been a lot of violence in Egypt. This shows Egypt’s problems in the cycle of repression and violence.

On Monday 29 June, Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s chief prosecutor, was killed in a bomb attack. The bomb was aimed at his group of cars in Heliopolis, a suburb in northeast Cairo.

The assassination was one day before the anniversary of the protests that eventually got rid of Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, supported by the military. This is the most important official to be killed in Egypt since the 1990s.

The next day, two car bombs exploded near a police station in the October 6 suburb of Cairo. 3 people died: 2 in the car and one walking past.

Then, on Wednesday, militants in north Sinai started fighting the Egyptian military. There were attacks at the same time on at least 11 military checkpoints and a police station in Sheikh Zuweid (northeast) and there were 3 suicide bombs in al-Arish.

Wilayat Sinai (or Sinai Province) said they are responsible. They are a jihadist group. Their name was Ansar Beit al-Maqdis until they joined the so-called Islamic State in November 2014.

The group tried to control the town. They closed the area with fighters who had RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). They put mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) along the roads. The militants controlled the area for a few hours. Then the army sent F-16s, helicopters and bombs.

Security officials told the Associated Press that 64 soldiers had been killed by Wednesday evening. But the next day, a military spokesperson said 17 soldiers had been killed and more than 100 militants.

There have been big problems with militants in north Sinai for the last 2 years. But Wednesday was one of the biggest attacks by Wilayat Sinai. There are signs that attacks are getting more sophisticated and organized.

It seems the Wilayat Sinai group is getting more powerful – controlling territory, organizing attacks and suicide bombers. And its plans are getting closer to ISIS.

On the same day, in Cairo, special security forces attacked a flat in the October 6 suburb. They killed nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including a former member of parliament.

After Morsi was taken from power and the military took control, the government started a ‘war on terror’. They want to bring back stability and security to the country.

The al-Sisi government wants to get rid of terrorists, but there are now more, bigger attacks, in the Sinai and mainland Egypt.

The government has used ‘terrorism’ to try to control everyone who does not agree with them, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

A little after the murder of Barakat, the government said the Muslim Brotherhood were responsible. The State Information Services said that the assassination was done by people from the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood gang’.

Barakat became general prosecutor in June 2013, only 3 weeks before Morsi was taken from power in 2013.

When he was general prosecutor, there were many cases that people disagreed about eg. the detention of thousands and mass death sentences for hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members. Most critics thought he was very important in stopping Islamists in Egypt. But the Brotherhood says this is not true. They say the government is responsible. In a statement, they said the violence in the country (and the assassination of the prosecutor) is the responsibility of the criminal junta that started the violence and turned Egypt away from a promising democratic experience to mass execution, violence and killing.

No group has officially said they are responsible for attacking the prosecutor and his cars. But some think it was Wilayat Sinai. They released a video saying people should kill the judges a day before the prosecutor’s death. In mid-May, members of Wilayat Sinai said they were responsible for killing 3 judges and a driver in north Sinai. They also tried to kill Mohamed Ibrahim, the former Interior Minister, in a car-bomb attack in September 2013.

Analysts say the attack on the prosecutor was probably by one of the smaller extremist groups that have started this year. They have said they are responsible for small attacks.

Stricter laws against terrorism

At Barakat’s funeral on 30 June, Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised to fight against terrorism by making the laws stricter.

Al-Sisi said the law is restricted, so they need to change the laws as soon as possible.

By 1 July, the cabinet had already prepared a draft law to the State Council for the president to approve.

In February this year, Al-Sisi passed an anti-terrorism law to give the government a lot of power. For example, it can now ban groups if they ‘harm national unity’ or ‘disrupt public order’.

Huda Nasrallah, a human rights lawyer, told independent Egyptian news site Mada Masr that the new law would probably extend the definition of terrorism, bring stricter punishments, and increase the power of the authorities.

The president still needs to confirm the law. But human rights groups and journalists do not agree with Article 33. This says it is against the law to report false data or news about any terrorist operations that contradicts the official statements from the authorities.

When the stories started about the situation in Sinai, journalists said more soldiers had died than the military said. Then journalists got emails from an organization called FactCheckEgypt, telling them to ‘correct’ their numbers immediately.

According to reports, FactCheckEgypt is linked to Egypt’s State Information Services (SIS), and its editor, Ayman Walash, is an employee at SIS and the Ministry of Investment.

The emails from FactCheckEgypt did not say what would happen if the journalists did not ‘correct’ the numbers. But if the new law comes in, it would mean up to 2 years in prison for a journalist who publishes figures that don’t agree with the state’s official reports.

No journalism is allowed in Sinai, so it is very difficult to report on the situation. There are only a few local journalists now in the area to check the ‘official’ numbers the military report.

And on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry released a ‘style guide’ for journalists, telling them how to talk about extremist groups. The ministry has said they must not say anything about religion eg. ‘Islamic State’. But they can use the words ‘destroyers’ and ‘savages’ etc.

War on terrorism

The attacks last week show that the government’s plan to bring stability and security might not be effective: the ‘war on terror’ has only brought stricter laws and closed off of political space.

Critics have said for a long time that more repression from the government and treating political opponents badly would create more extremism and violence.

As the state continues to control, more people will probably join extremist groups.

The government is pushing the Brotherhood to the edge of politics, so extremist groups might be able attract more Islamists.

The government is about to pass the new broad anti-terrorism law. It is clear that the state does not want to change its plan of controlling people who do not agree and the media.

But this repression will probably make things worse: if the government keeps controlling the country, they will have to wait longer for stability and security.

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