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In Egypt, growing fears military faces armed insurgency

Sept. 5, 2013 at 12:47 PM   |   Comments

CAIRO, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- An apparent attempt to assassinate Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, an attack on a ship in the Suez Canal and worsening clashes with jihadist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, all in the last week, have raised concerns Egypt's military regime faces a possible Islamist insurgency over the July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

State media reported Thursday a roadside bomb exploded near Ibrahim's limousine near his home in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, a stronghold of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been up in arms since he was deposed.

Hundreds of Brotherhood loyalists were gunned down in Nasr City Aug. 14 when police stormed a massive sit-in protest against the military's seizure of power.

Authorities said at least four people were wounded in Thursday's bombing, but Ibrahim was apparently not hurt. He has been closely involved in the violent crackdown on Morsi's supporters in recent weeks in which hundreds of people have been killed.

The ongoing wholesale arrests of Brotherhood supporters, this week's closure of four television channels accused of sympathizing with the Brotherhood and Sunday's announcement that Morsi will stand trial on charges of inciting violence that led to the killing of at least 10 people during protests outside the presidential palace in December, are bound to intensify an already incendiary political climate.

Maj. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who deposed Morsi amid fears he and the Brotherhood were planning an Islamic state, is now Egypt's de facto leader. And he seems determined to obliterate the Islamists once and for all.

He has extensive support among Egyptians who also fear being ruled by the Brotherhood, banned in the 1950s by Gamal Abdel Nasser until President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in the February 2011 revolution.

Senior government officials dismiss the prospect of Egypt being consumed by an Islamist insurgency on a far larger scale than the low-level rebellion against Mubarak's dictatorship in the 1990s, or even a jihadist-driven sectarian conflict like those in Syria and Iraq.

Others see Algeria's civil war against Islamists throughout the 1990s as a model for an Egyptian insurgency. That bloodbath, in which as many as 200,000 people were killed, began after the military-backed regime scrapped a parliamentary election the Islamists were set to win in December 1991, but it took the Islamists around six months before they were able to mount a significant campaign of violence.

Egypt's militants, meantime, have access to large amounts of weapons plundered from neighboring Libya during its 2011 civil war that brought down Moammar Gadhafi.

"In the Islamist community generally, a narrative is emerging that the current regime is illegitimate, an impious collaborator regime" cautioned Issandr el Amrani, North Africa director of the International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution organization based in Brussels.

"There are some warnings that Egypt may not be as immune from the global jihadist movement as it has been," he observed. "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 over the next few months and likely to come at more regular intervals and in a stronger way."

Sisi is supported by the 375,000-strong army and paramilitary forces totaling 397,000, as well as a widely feared security force.

The Brotherhood and its allies could still cause sufficient trouble that Egypt's economy, increasingly precarious after 2-1/2 years of political upheaval, could be badly hit.

The unsuccessful, and seemingly ham-fisted, rocket attack on the Panamanian-flagged container ship Cosco Asia as it sailed through the Suez Canal Aug. 31 underlined how vulnerable the Egyptian economy is.

The 120-mile canal, linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, is vital to the Egyptian economy.

It's the second-most important maritime choke point for oil and liquefied natural gas bound for Europe and North America after the Strait of Hormuz, gateway to the Persian Gulf.

For now, Egyptians should look to Sinai, which -- since Mubarak's fall in February 2011 -- has become a new stronghold of jihadist groups linked to al-Qaida, who are well-armed with Libyan weapons and are now waging a growing insurgency against Sisi's forces.

This desolate region of desert and mountains could be where the anti-Sisi insurgency begins.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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