Attacks on security forces and installations in Egypt have raised fears that a low-level insurgency is developing in response to the military’s toppling of the country’s Islamist government and subsequent crackdown on protests.
One police officer was shot dead and three others injured at dawn on Wednesday at a rural checkpoint in the normally placid southern province of Aswan, state media reported.
The attack came two days after unknown assailants threw an explosive device at a police station in central Cairo, injuring two civilians. Authorities also said they found a bomb on Sunday at the main railway station in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, though security officials told local media the device was not set to explode.
Low-level insurgent violence has long afflicted Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, and security officials and installations have often been targets of rowdy demonstrations. But the uptick in attacks along Egypt’s heavily populated Nile valley are new and suggest a possible return to the Islamist violence of the 1990s at a time when Egypt badly needs to attract foreign investment and tourism to reinvigorate its struggling economy.
“The risk that hardline Islamist elements will take up arms in a significant campaign against the authorities is now high,” said a report by the London risk consultancy company Maplecroft. “Egypt has a history of such violence in the 1990s. Yet the impact this time is likely to be far worse, given wider turmoil in the country and the proliferation of weapons.”
Egypt’s armed forces toppled the country’s elected Islamist government in a popular coup and installed a new government ahead of fresh elections early next year. But reconciliation between the military-backed interim authorities and supporters of the toppled government of president Mohamed Morsi appears unlikely after a campaign of arrests and violence targeting Islamist leaders.
Experts worry that some within Egypt’s Islamist camp may be embracing calls for violence by militants, including al-Qaeda’s Egyptian leader, Ayman Zawahiri.
Though Egypt has many of the ingredients for an insurgency, including tactical expertise from the Sinai, a flow of weapons from the late Muammer Gaddafi’s looted bunkers in neighbouring Libya and a breakdown in political dialogue, Egyptian security officials steadfastly reject any comparisons to Algeria or Iraq.
Ahmad al-Muslimani, an adviser to Adli Mansour, the military-backed interim president, predicted on Tuesday that Egypt would become a “safe” country in 2014 and a “developed nation” by 2015, according to the official Mena news agency.
But others point to the examples of Algeria and Iraq and worry that Islamist radicals are biding their time and fine-tuning their methodologies. In Algeria in 1992 it was nearly six months after the military nullified an election won by Islamists that militants assassinated the interim president, and eight months before they carried out their first mass bombing.
Iraqi insurgents began bombing embassies and the headquarters of international organisations and political and religious leaders about four months after the US toppled the government of Saddam Hussein.
“In the Islamist community generally, a narrative is emerging that the current regime is illegitimate, an impious collaborator regime” said Issandr El Amrani, north Africa director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict resolution think-tank.
“There are some warnings that Egypt may not be as immune from the global jihadist movement as it has been,” he said. “These small attacks by Islamists, local groups and even criminal groups that are not happy with the reassertion of the security state are very likely to take place in the next few months and likely to come at more regular intervals and in a stronger way.”
Source: The Financial Times