12:00 AM, September 19, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:59 PM, September 18, 2013

Egypt: The return of assassinations

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Kamal Gaballa

Egypt: The return of assassinationsWalter C. Clemens wrote recently in the New York Times that the news from Egypt confirm Plato's gloomy speculations about democracy. Clemens explained that Egypt went from bad to worse … from a moderate dictatorship to an elected dictatorship led by ideology to a third dictatorship that's even more oppressive and less tolerant.
On the morning of September 13, Egyptian newspapers reported the state's decision to extend the state of emergency by two months.
Meanwhile, the army's technical team has begun rebuilding the intelligence headquarters in Sinai's Rafah after it was blown up last week in a suicide attack that is suspected to have included foreign agendas.
The attack by groups of ambiguous nature, which killed six Egyptians soldiers and left 17 others wounded, is the latest in a wave of terrorism and organised violence that is facing the troubled Sinai Peninsula.
For whom these groups work remains unknown but reports linking them to al-Qaeda and other jihadist movements have become quite common as they forced the authorities to take intensive measures not seen since the '80s and '90s.
These terrorist groups kept a relatively low profile during the past year, but their true colours were revealed hours after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood as they (terrorists) began their war against the Egyptian state and the army in particular.
Sinai is being staged to seem to the world as the hub of lawlessness, violence and terrorism as militants have announced a war on the state through their aggressions and smuggling of arms and drugs.
In a television appearance, prominent journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal said that Sinai has been under the mercy of Israel since the 1979 peace treaty and is now Egypt's most exposed area with 18,000 to 24,000 jihadists, outlaws and terrorists residing in it.
About a week before the attack on Rafah's intelligence headquarters, a group that goes by the name “Ansar Beet al-Maqdas” had taken credit for the failed attempt to assassin Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood -- where the bloody Rabaa al-Adaweya events took place in August as the state dispersed a pro-Morsi sit-in.
According to reports, 390 terrorist hideouts have been demolished, 101 vehicles and 90 motorcycles have been confiscated or destroyed, and 393 tunnels have been leveled since the army began its operations in Sinai after Morsi's removal.
Meanwhile, reports also show that 107 terrorists have been killed, 353 have been wounded while 617 were arrested, and 73% of all arms smuggled through Gaza have been confiscated.
Reports also show that the Egyptian authorities have succeeded to a great extent in halting the funding that was being sent to terrorists in Sinai from outside and inside -- in terms of both manpower and finances. Their communication channels were also cut in the army's operations.
Indicators show that the Egyptian army's war on terrorism in Sinai is in its final stage despite the large amounts and danger of these arms that these groups had their grip on.
These arms that were smuggled into Sinai during the past two years, especially through the Libyan and Palestinian borders, with the help of gangs, militants and regional and international intelligence.
Their intention was to create a terrorist state in Sinai and separate the peninsula from Egypt to pressure the Egyptian state and threaten national security through terrorist activities.
A report in Al-Ahram newspaper on Friday morning suggested that those responsible for the attack on the intelligence headquarters are plotting yet another vicious attack.
Similarly, a report in the local newspaper al-Watan predicted that the terrorist activities in Egypt will increase on a wider scale and not just in Sinai in the upcoming period in response to the ouster of Morsi.
It also speculated that these activities will peak around the 40th anniversary of the October 6 War of 1973 to put the authorities in a critical position to step up their efforts to chase these fundamentalists who announced their war against the state after the June 30 uprising.
Security reports suggest that terrorist groups will use new tools and strategies in the upcoming period, including attacking ships passing through the Suez Canal with RPGs and explosive devices.
The history of fundamentalist organisations in Sinai began at the end of the '80s and the beginning of the '90s after the emergence of three groups -- the Salafi Jihadists, the Jihad and the Muslim Group which later became known as “al-Takfeer wa al-Hegra.”
The numbers of these terrorists did not exceed 1,000, and during Morsi's rule their number went up to 24,000 according to Heikal. They include 14 militant groups in which Ansar Beet al-Maqdas is the most dangerous followed by Ansar al-Jihad, and Shoura al-Mujahdeen, and the carriers of the black banners who announced Sinai as an Islamic state after the January 25 revolution in 2011.
The terrorists, according to security reports, include jihadists from Sinai itself and also from other governorates, Palestinians smuggled through Gaza, and extremely dangerous criminals.
It's also worth pointing out that the terrorist operations in Sinai include sectarian activities such as the kidnapping of Christian Egyptians by armed gunmen in Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuwaid.
This led many Christian families to flee the city until security is restored. Also, prayers have been suspended in Rafah and Sheikh Zuwaid completely and are performed only in one church in Arish now.
Meanwhile, the terrorist activities in North Sinai have put an end to all normal daily activities and stability of the residents and families. It also forced many families to flee and many investors to step back, which affected tourism.
I really hope Clemens' conclusion about Egypt is wrong and Egypt will not be dragged into an even gloomier fate during its search for democracy.

The writer is Managing Editor, Al-Ahram newspaper.
E-mail: kgaballa@ahram.org.eg

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