The suicide bombing at the Coptic church in central Cairo on December 11, 2016, which killed 25 and wounded 50, and the terror attack a few days earlier on the road to the Giza pyramids that killed six police officers, reflect two fateful developments: the Muslim Brotherhood’s recovery from the blows inflicted by the Sisi government, and the slackening of the government’s security efforts and possibly its fatigue from fighting terror.
There is growing public criticism of the security failures that allowed these attacks. Egyptian authorities have already announced that they are considering new plans for augmenting the military and security laws that pertain to the war on terror.
The public has reacted to the attacks with fury. Even the newspaper, Al-Ahram, which is the government’s official mouthpiece, has published articles on the security failures and the need for enhanced measures such as installing cameras in crowded places and using sniffer dogs.
A December 13, 2016, article in Al-Ahram by writer Masoud al-Hanawi called on the Egyptian government to learn from Israel and Turkey about how to wage all-out war on terror and strike it with an iron fist.
The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be recuperating from the assassination a few months ago of Muhammad Kamal, who headed its military wing, by Egyptian security forces in a raid on the Cairo apartment, where he was hiding.
Who Is Responsible for the Attacks?
On December 13, 2016, the Islamic State issued an official announcement that it was behind the bombing of the Coptic Church. Egyptian security officials, however, believe the attack was a joint operation of the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood office in London issued a statement condemning the attack, the Egyptian authorities claim the condemnation was made out of fear of Western countries’ reactions.
Some of the Facebook pages of Muslim Brotherhood leaders who fled to Qatar expressed elation over the attack.
Earlier, an organization known as Hassam released a statement pinning the blame for the attack on police officers who, it said, had set an ambush on the road to the pyramids in Giza.
According to Egyptian security officials, this organization is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. In recent months, its members have perpetrated a string of terror attacks against the police and against a judge in one of the trials of the previous president, Mohamed Morsi.
They also tried to assassinate Dr. Ali Gomaa, the former mufti of Egypt.
This is not the first time radical Muslims have struck at the delicate social fabric between Egyptian Muslims and Christians of the Coptic community, which forms about 10 percent of the population.
In January 2011, a car-bomb attack on the Al-Qiddissin Coptic Church in Alexandria killed 21.
The newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported on December 13, 2011, that since Sisi became president, there have been 130 attacks on Coptic churches and property in Egypt.
These appear to be radical Muslims’ acts of vengeance for the Coptic Church’s support for Sisi’s government, which has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood members accuse the Coptic Christians of abetting the overthrow of former President Morsi’s government.
The Terror Triangle
Official statements by the Egyptian Interior Ministry and reports in the Egyptian media indicate that the attack on the Coptic church was carried out by a cell whose creation was initiated by Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Qatar, which gives political refuge to the movement’s operatives, and by Muhammad Kamal’s successor as head of the military wing, with help from the Islamic State branch in northern Sinai.
Egyptian security officials’ investigation indicates that Kamal’s successor is 32-year-old Mohab Mostafa el-Sayed Kassem, whose codename in the Muslim Brotherhood is “the Doctor.”
It was the Doctor who recruited Mahmoud Shafiq, who carried out the attack on the Coptic Church with a suicide vest, and the other members of the cell.
The Doctor has been able to evade the Egyptian security. However, it appears from the interrogation of four members of the cell who were quickly captured that he went to Qatar a few months ago. There he seems to have met with some of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders who fled from Egypt, the most prominent among them is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. It was in Doha that the attack was planned – as retribution for the Copts’ support for Sisi’s government and also in an effort to damage Christmas tourism in Egypt.
The Doctor returned to Cairo via the Sinai Peninsula, where he received military training from Ansar Beit al-Makdis, the Islamic State branch. He then recruited the other members of the cell including the suicide bomber.
President Sisi’s government now faces a new challenge of waging a war on terror. The Muslim Brotherhood, having failed to organize mass anti-government demonstrations on November 11, 2016, against the backdrop of the country’s difficult economic situation, appears more determined than ever to overthrow Sisi and destabilize the country by resuming terror attacks.
Recently a Cairo court annulled the death sentence that had been meted out to Morsi. This was seen as Sisi’s signal to the Muslim Brotherhood that he was prepared for reconciliation. The movement, however, hastened to issue a statement a few days later that it rejected any possibility of mending fences with Sisi’s government.
During the funeral of those killed in the attack on the Coptic Church, Sisi called on the government and parliament to make changes in legislation that would enable a tougher struggle against terror. He denied that there had been a security failure. Members of parliament, however, are already calling for electromagnetic gates to be installed at the entrances to the country’s churches.
The government emphasizes the fact that the terror endangers both Muslims and Christians. The parliament, for its part, is already considering changes in the constitution that would enable the military’s legal system to try civilians suspected of involvement in terror.
President Sisi’s challenge is to stop the new radical-Islamic wave of terror while it is still only beginning.