It is up to Muslims – particularly, Arabs – either to ignore the bitter truth and so leave the disease to get worse until it turns fatal, or to admit its existence as a first step to radically treating it. (..) The time for excuses and apologies has long gone; and what we need now is radical solutions.
Last Friday was indeed a painful and sad day in the month of Ramadan, yet it is no more sufficient to merely express sorrow and abhorrence and call for national unity. As targeting mosques and murdering innocent people continue, all talk may be both useless and meaningless.
When Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat’s car was blown up in Cairo this week by as of yet unknown terrorists, there was a profound sense of foreboding that Egypt was in some new, unprecedented phase of violence. These concerns were only reinforced when the Islamic State-affiliated Wilayat Sina, or “Province of Sinai,” killed dozens of soldiers and policemen in a spectacular raid on the town of Sheikh Zuwayd the following day. Egypt is indeed entering unchartered territory, fighting an undeclared war in the Sinai Peninsula that is spreading to the population centers of the Nile Valley. It is hard to imagine how the Egyptians will avoid a prolonged period of bloodshed.
Barakat’s assassination was just the most recent in a long list of Egyptian officials killed at the hands of their opponents. Everyone knows about President Anwar Sadat’s murder in October 1981, but far fewer know that in the 1940s alone, two prime ministers, a minister of finance, a well-respected judge, and the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, were assassinated. With the obvious exception of the greater influence of the British, who occupied Egypt at the time, there are echoes of that era in Egypt’s current political dynamics — notably hyper-nationalism, political instability, widening violence, and a pervasive sense of chaos. How did it all end then? With a coup.
While a coup today seems unlikely, if not entirely implausible, the Egyptian military’s decisions are once again at the center of the current moment. Its goal has been to rebuild, renovate, and reengineer a system in which it can play a role similar to the one it perfected during the Mubarak years. In the 38 years starting after the October 1973 war, the military enjoyed the prestige and influence of being the guarantor of Egypt’s political order without actually having to be responsible for anything — with the exception of national defense — or accountable to anyone. The violence that is bedeviling Egypt and drawing the military deeper and deeper into a full-blown civil conflict reveals this effort to be a failure.
The insurgency tilts the balance of civil-military relations further in favor of the high command. As civilians or civilianized officers are diminished, the commanders will necessarily (though not always happily) assume greater responsibility for issues beyond those strictly related to national security.
There are parallels here to the dynamic that bolstered the Turkish General Staff’s outsized role in politics after an insurgency by Kurdish guerrillas broke out in 1984. By the mid-1990s, Turkey’s civilian leaders, unable to manage the conflict and fearful of the officers, basically abdicated their responsibility for the southeastern party of the country to the General Staff, which made for an even more autonomous and politically active military establishment. Despite the widely held perceptions of the Egyptian officer corps, this is precisely the kind of outcome they want to avoid. The officers enjoy their prestige and jealously guard their power — but as the armed forces’ own history demonstrates, politics and conflict undermine their preeminent place in the system.
Yet the officers do not seem to have a choice. The Province of Sinai — imbued with an uncompromising extremist worldview — has made war on Egypt, promising to keep the military out in the open and politically exposed.
So what next? History is not much of a guide. In the late 1940s, in response to violence, the government dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood — but more violence ensued. The instability and uncertainty of that era only ended when Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers deposed King Farouk in July 1952, but even then it took them almost two more years to establish political control.
In the 1990s, terrorists of the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad attacked tourists, intellectuals, police generals, and senior officials like then Interior Minister Abdel Halim Moussa, who was the target of four unsuccessful assassination attempts. The military played a largely secondary role for most of that conflict until 1997, when terrorists murdered 58 tourists and four Egyptians near Luxor. Under the command of Sami Enan, who would later become the armed forces chief of staff and the number two figure in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military hunted down the perpetrators of that attack. The violence came to an end shortly afterwards, when the accumulation of arrests and killings took a toll on the extremist groups. These examples provide few, if any clues, as to how the Egyptian government will manage the current conflict.
For the military, the current struggle is made all the more difficult because the officers have spent the last 42 years equipping themselves to fight a large land war that will never happen. Add to this the significant ideological challenge that the terrorists of the Province of Sinai, which declared its allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in November 2014, represents.
As a result, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military seem to be at a loss. The special forces operation that killed nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood the same day of the Sheikh Zuwayd attack seemed to have little rationale other than vengeance. The Brotherhood’s statement in response, calling on Egyptians to rise up against Sisi to avenge these deaths, was chilling. If government crackdowns, restrictive laws, violence, and nationalist propaganda have done nothing to arrest Egypt’s slide, adding vengeance to this dynamic will almost certainly produce a spiral of violence from which it will be hard to break out.
When Sisi deposed former President Mohamed Morsi and brought Egypt’s brief experience with Muslim Brotherhood rule to a merciful end, the officers’ promise to the Egyptian people was that of prosperity borne of stability. It has not come to pass. In the broad sweep of Egyptian history, Hisham Barakat’s assassination is no more important than that of Minister of Finance Amin Othman’s in 1944 — but there is something about the present struggle that seems different and with greater stakes.
Unlike in previous conflicts, Egypt’s officers find themselves in the worst of all possible worlds: Fighting a long war for which they are not prepared, thus risking the officers’ vaunted position in the Egyptian political system. In the abstract, a change in the military’s place would be a good thing. But in the present conflict, it would mean breaking the military — and when you do that, you break Egypt.
Original title: Egypt’s Coming Chaos: An assassination of a top official and a brazen attack by the Islamic State this week herald a prolonged period of bloodshed.
Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/03/egypts-coming-chaos-isis-terrorism-sisi/
The devil is not in the details. It’s in the entire conception of the Iran deal, animated by President Obama’s fantastical belief that he, uniquely, could achieve detente with a fanatical Islamist regime whose foundational purpose is to cleanse the Middle East of the poisonous corruption of American power and influence.
U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly blocked allies in the Middle East from delivering heavy weapons to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
The Islamic State group's success in Ramadi signals a long road for reversing recent events.
The recent military success of the Islamic State group in conquering Ramadi and in attacking Iraqi forces elsewhere in northwestern Iraq as well as making gains in Syria reminds us that ISIS remains a disciplined, coherent fighting force—not soon to be defeated or disappear. This is not good news for the Christians of Iraq.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - On New Year’s Day, a suicide bomber attacked a Coptic Orthodox
Church in Alexandria, Egypt, killing at least 21 and wounding scores more. Reports indicate that
20 people have been detained for questioning, but it is unclear whether they were directly
connected to the violence.
“The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns in the
strongest possible terms the bombing and targeting of Christians and their places of worship,”
said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. “This attack all too clearly demonstrates the ongoing problem
of unchecked violence against Christians in Egypt. The Commission regrets all loss of life and
calls for a thorough investigation to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice,
something that has been elusive in Egypt in previous attacks on religious minorities. The
Egyptian government must also take visible steps to ensure the protection of Coptic places of
worship before, during, and after the Coptic Christmas of January 7.”
Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against
members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. In
USCIRF’s 2010 Annual Report, the Commission noted that the reporting period marked a
significant upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Egyptian government
has not taken sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christians and
other religious believers, or, in many cases, to punish those responsible for violence or other
severe violations of religious freedom.
“Sadly, due to violent attacks, Christmas was not a time of peace for Christians in many
countries around the world, including Egypt,” said Leo. “At present, there is no real deterrent for
those who target Egyptian citizens because of their religious identity. Until there is justice and
accountability, the Christian minority, and other minorities in Egypt, will remain vulnerable to
extremists and terrorists.”
The Alexandria attack is just one in a series of attacks on Christians in Egypt. In January of
last year, six Christians and a Muslim guard were killed in a drive-by shooting on Coptic
Christmas Eve in the southern Egyptian town of Naga Hammadi. To date, no one has been
brought to justice. Closing arguments concluded in the trial of the three alleged perpetrators
last month and a final verdict is expected on January 16.
“The Commission welcomed President Obama’s statement on the attack and his call that the
Egyptian government bring the attackers ‘to justice for this barbaric and heinous act,’” said Leo.
“We hope the U.S. government will vigorously follow up on the President’s words and press
Cairo to see that all involved are held to account. The reports of ongoing violence connected to
other demonstrations require vigorous government action to protect not only places of worship
but also members of the Christian minority, as a means of preventing a cycle of reprisals.”
U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF
Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the
Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the
facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy
recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at
Coptic Solidarity 2015 Conference
The Annual Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on June 11-13, 2015.