Veil of insecurity shrouds Egypt

Veil of insecurity shrouds Egypt

Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is failing to provide security to the country’s 92 million people, the expectation of the 97% of voters who cast ballots for him in the 2014 election. The rip tide of “Sisi mania” that brought him to power is ebbing because of well-coordinated bombings carried out by Islamic State (IS), which has extended deadly operations from its territorial base in the distant North Sinai province to Cairo, Tanta and Alexandria.

Coptic Christian churches have been targeted by the radical cult in three deadly attacks over the past four months. The first on December 11 at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in central Cairo killed 29 worshippers.

Twin suicide bombings on April 9 at St George’s church in the industrial town of Tanta, north of Cairo, slew 27, and at St Mark’s Cathedral in the port city of Alexandria killed 22, including four police officers. IS-affiliate Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has also attacked and driven from North Sinai hundreds of Copts, who constitute 10% of Egypt’s 92 million people.

In response to the Tanta and Alexandria bombings, the government imposed a three-mon­th state of emergency and the Coptic church cut back Easter celebrations — a high point in the church’s calendar — to simple services, cancelling traditio­nal decorations, receptions and handing out sweets to children.

Copts have been traditional targets for Egyptian nationalists and fundamentalists ever since Britain occupied the country in 1882 and began to play the minority community off against the majority, as Britain did in India with tragic results. Pro-British Coptic politician Butros Ghali (grandfather of the former UN secretary general of the same name) was appointed prime minister in 1908 and assassinated in 1910 by a nationalist youth.

Following the first church attack, the authorities were warned that there could be more by a video calling for war against “idolators”: Christians, Muslims and others who do not subscribe to the radicals’ ultra-puritan ideology based on the Saudi Wahhabi cult. This warning seems to have been ignored.

One of the prime suspects in the Alexandria bombings was identified as an IS supporter by Kuwait and extradited to Egypt but released ahead of the attack. Furthermore, the government has not cracked down on mos­que preachers who incite their congregations against Christians, although extremist radio stations have been closed down.

Although Muslim radicals had been scrapping for years with the Egyptian army in North Sinai, they cut down on violence after the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad Morsi was elected president in 2012, following the 2011 ouster of 30-year president Hosni Mubarak during Arab Spring uprising.

While in power, Morsi was accused of fostering North Sinai radicals by allowing foreign fighters into Egypt and doing little or nothing to stop radicals from arming themselves with weapons and explosives from neighbouring war-torn Libya.

When Morsi was toppled in July 2013, the Brotherhood launched a sometimes violent protest campaign against the authorities and radicals stepped up attacks on the military. Violence against Copts and their churches rose to an unprecedented level. This led to the election of former army commander Sisi who had the strong support of Coptic parties, wealthy businessmen and voters as well as the overwhelming majority of Muslims frightened by Egypt’s slide into civil conflict.

Misplaced trust

Egyptians have begun to believe that their trust in Sisi has been misplaced. Critics of the government from across the spectrum and from all communities argue that once the members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood had been rounded up and jailed, the security apparatus focused on secular dissidents who posed no threat while ignoring radical jihadis who sought to divide and destabilise the country.

Sisi has also failed to deliver economic demands to Egyptians, 40% of whom live on or below the poverty line. Instead of lowering the cost of living and building schools, roads, and clinics, he has poured billions of dollars into high-profile projects, like the unprofitable expansion of the Suez canal and a project expanding arable land benefitting wealthy investors rather than farmers.

Sisi has not reformed the bureaucracy which discourages foreign investment. Tourism, a foreign currency earner and employer, has collapsed. To secure a $12 billion IMF loan, Sisi tinkered with subsidies which keep the poor afloat and devalued Egypt’s currency. Consequently, inflation has soared from 14-30%. Youth unemployment has reached 40%.

In mid-March, protesters took to the streets chanting “Down with Sisi,” over food shortages, soaring prices and a reduction in the number of loaves in the subsidised bread parcel, bread being the staple of most Egyptian families. Outrage was sparked on social media when a video was broadcast of General Mohamed Mansour telling Egyptians to “sacrifice their dinners” to rescue Egypt from economic ruin.

Unless grievances, particularly of youth, are addressed by governments around the world, protests are likely to erupt and IS, al-Qaeda and their offshoots are certain to attract recruits from rebellious, vengeful, under-educated and unemployed people everywhere.