Egypt steps up anti-terrorism measures

New law seen by human rights organisations as a catch-all measure to crush dissent

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gestures during his trial on charges of spying and terrorism. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation has been desigated a terrorist group by Cairo. Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gestures during his trial on charges of spying and terrorism. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation has been desigated a terrorist group by Cairo. Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

 

Egypt is beset by foreign terrorists on its borders, organised domestic terrorists in Sinai and lone wolf terrorists who plant homemade bombs at vulnerable public facilities.

The authorities issue daily tallies of jihadi dead in the northern Sinai army campaign against Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has proclaimed itself the Sinai province of Islamic State, the radical cult that has seized wide swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has been battling the army and security forces in Sinai since the 2013 ousting of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has claimed the October assault on troops that left 31 dead, as well as the killing of US oil worker William Henderson in August.

Because of the army’s drive to crush Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the group has, reportedly, shifted from mounting frontal assaults on troops and police to laying bombs along roads used by the military. Having recruited disaffected bedouin and defecting Muslim Brothers, the group has also threatened to extend operations to tourism centres in Sinai, including Sharm al-Shaikh, as well as Cairo and the rest of the country.

Arms and foreign fighters have also come from Libya, rent by civil strife following the 2011 rising against Muammar Gadafy, as well as from other countries where international jihadism has inspired jobless and alienated youth to join revolts in the Middle East and north and sub-Saharan Africa.

Cairo has accused the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which rules Gaza, of providing training, arms and fighters for Asar Beit al-Maqdis, and it has bulldozed the homes of Palestinian and Egyptian families in Rafah, the town bisected by the Egypt-Gaza border, in an effort to create a security zone along that frontier.

Suspension

Since the overthrow of Morsi and the re-installation of a secular regime, Egypt has had strained relations with its southern neighbour, fundamentalist-governed Sudan, which has ties to the Brotherhood and has given sanctuary to fugitive members.

Cairo is concerned that the new land crossing it opened with Sudan for the passage of goods and people will be infiltrated by fundamentalist insurgents. It has also stepped up efforts to prevent the covert entry of jihadis across the country’s long border with Libya.

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in an attempt to stem infiltration, has issued a decree demarcating “forbidden” zones along Egypt’s southern, western and northern borders where all movement of non-resident civilians and vehicles is prohibited.

Finally, analysts warn that there have been mounting attacks on police, public facilities and minorities, such as Egypt’s Christian Copts, by those who are not aligned with any particular group but are frustrated by the crackdown on their freedoms.

Harassment of women by individual men and gangs of men are also a form of lone wolf terrorism.

Last week Egypt’s government approved a new anti-terrorism law which broadly defines as terrorist any entity that disrupts public order or threatens the safety, security, or interests of society, or harms, frightens or threatens individuals’ lives, freedoms, rights or security, or harms national unity.

During the past year, it has designated as terrorist organisations the Brotherhood, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and Agnad Misr, a group that emerged from the shadows to claim bombings near Cairo University, the shooting of police officers and two bombings against police targets.

However, this law is seen by human rights organisations as a catch-all measure designed to crush all dissent. Khaled Mansour, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says that while terrorism is a very serious threat, it cannot be met by restricting freedom.

“We can’t have zero terrorism but we can contain terrorism” so it involves only “deranged people”, and prevent them from infecting disgruntled, marginalised citizens.

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