Egypt Security ReviewFebruary 17, 2014 in Egypt
Tour Bus Attack in the Sinai
On Sunday, a tour bus was struck by an explosion, killing at least three people and wounding dozens. The busload of tourists was heading back from the famous St. Catherin’s Monastery and was in the border town of Taba, preparing to cross into Israel. At least two South Korean tourists and the Egyptian bus driver were killed. Nearly all 33 passengers were wounded, 12 suffered serious injuries. The attack has gone unclaimed. The border crossing at Taba between Egypt and Israel has since been closed.
Egyptian officials have varied on the cause of the explosion, with some reports indicating a car or bomb detonation, and others claiming that the explosive device was inside the bus. However, reports this morning indicate a suicide attack. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif, the driver and two South Koreans stepped out of the parked bus and went to the cargo hold. As they reboarded, the bomber pushed in through the open bus door and detonated his explosives.
Since July 2013, over 300 attacks have occurred in the Sinai Peninsula; however they have predominantly targeted security forces or gas pipelines in North Sinai. The bus attack is the first to target foreign tourists since the 2009 bombing in the famous Khan el-Khalili market which killed one and wounded 20. An attack against tourists in South Sinai has not taken place since 2006.
Some analysts believe that the attacks may have been carried out by militant Islamist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Beit al Maqdis). A large portion of the attacks both in the Sinai Peninsula and in other areas of Egypt have been claimed by the group. On 13 February, Ansar Jerusalem released a video claiming responsibility for the 29 December bombing of a military intelligence building in the Sharqiya governorate. The bombing wounded at least 4 people, and came five days after a similar attack in Mansoura killed over a dozen people and injured more than 130. The video includes scenes of security forces attacking protestors, and points out assaults on female protesters, echoing previous complaints made by the group. Weeks earlier, Ansar Jerusalem released video of their members using a surface-to-air missile to take down an Egyptian helicopter operating in North Sinai, killing five soldiers.
Ansar Jerusalem has commonly targeted security forces and gas pipelines, but the group has warned in jihadist forums that it will target economic interests in response to military operations to eradicate terrorism in the Sinai. While it is possible that the attack on the bus was a one-time incident, there is heightened awareness that the bombing marks the beginning of a new angle of attack.
Tunnels Destroyed on Gaza Border
On Saturday, the Egyptian army destroyed ten tunnels on the border with the Gaza Strip in the Sinai Peninsula. In addition, seven homes that the tunnels led to were also destroyed. The destruction of the tunnels is part of Egypt’s continuing plan to create a buffer zone along the Gaza border. The zone is to extend 300 meters in populated areas and 500 meters in open areas.
Also on Saturday, three explosive devices were safely detonated by the Egyptian army. The devices were placed in military vehicles and armoured cars in Sheikh Zuwaid. The army has raided militant strongholds in the area.
Morsi Trial Postponed
Selim el-Awa, the lawyer representing former president Mohamed Morsi and 35 other Muslim Brotherhood figures, has withdrawn his defence team in objection to the soundproof glass box that the defendants are forced to remain in during court proceedings. The court has postponed the trial until 23 February.
The glass boxes were installed prevent Morsi and other Brotherhood figures from disrupting the trials in the manner they have since the courtroom procedures began last year. On Sunday, Morsi and other defendants chanted the Egyptian national anthem, and slogans against military rule.
Members of the defence team were invited into the glass boxes to ensure the defendants were able to hear the proceedings. However, the defence claimed that the trial was nearly inaudible in Morsi’s box, and completely inaudible in boxes used for other defendants. El Awa decided that his team will not attend future hearings until the boxes are removed. While the court announced it will appoint 10 new lawyers to the case, el Awa’s decision could invalidate the trial because he is the only lawyer authorised by Morsi and the other defendants.
Morsi and the other defendants are accused of working with foreign groups to commit acts of terrorism in Egypt, revealing defence secrets to a foreign country, funding terrorists and organising military training “to achieve the purposes of the international organisation of the Brotherhood.” Specifically, prosecution believes the defendants were collaborating with Hamas, Hezbollah, and other groups within and outside of Egypt to smuggle arms and train combatants in an attempt to threaten Egypt’s national security. The charges span from 2005 to 2013.
Sabbahi invites el Sisi to debate
On Saturday, Hamadeen Sabbahi, a leading leftist figure and the only person to announce candidacy Egypt’s presidential elections, invited army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to engage in a live debate should el-Sisi decide to run. Sabbahi did add that he does not believe the army chief should run, but should rather opt to maintain his stature.
El-Sisi was appointed by Morsi and relatively unknown before his role in the removal of Morsi. Since July, he has grown exponentially popular and is widely expected, if he runs, to win the presidential elections by a landslide. However, Sabbahi has rejected this assertion: “It’s not a done deal as many think […] the people are capable of choosing [a candidate] based on their knowledge of history.”
He adds, “I am sure that the right decision after the revolution is to establish a state that serves the people, and not a state that is served by people.” Cautiously, Sabbahi highlighted that he would not allow competition with El Sisi over the presidency to turn into a face-off between revolutionary groups and the army.
Sabbahi, a former member of parliament, ran for president in 2012, finishing third behind Mohamed Morsi and ex-Mubarak premier Ahmed Shafiq. He is considered a leader in the revolution and an outspoken opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, although el Sisi was empowered by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to run for president, he not publicly stated his plans. Last week during a visit to Moscow to discuss a $2 billion arms deal, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated el Sisi on his undeclared intentions to run, escalating suspicions of his intentions.
Sabbahi called el Sisi’s visit to Moscow a positive step, saying “reconfigures Egypt’s foreign relations, and stops it leaning to the West.” Sabbahi further praised el Sisi, reminiscing on a long conversation about social just during their only meeting together.
Kidnapping targets Christian Children
In the past two weeks, at least 9 cases of Christians being kidnapped have been reported in the Minya province of Upper Egypt. The trend compared to last year, however, shows that younger people are being targeted for kidnapping.
Minya, with a 50% Christian population, has the highest percentage of Christians in Egypt. Christians make up approximately 10% of the Egyptian population. Kidnappers have a perception of wealth associated with the Christian population. This perception, coupled with weak security infrastructure in the region, makes residents in the region susceptible to kidnapping. In 2013, 69 kidnappings were documented from the Minya province alone. In 61 cases, kidnappers have received a ransom. Demands have ranged from $7,000 to $500,000. It is possible that kidnappers believe that families and communities will pay more, and more quickly, to see the release a younger child who has been kidnapped.
Of the 69 reported cases, police became involved in only four, and in one of those, a kidnapping victim was killed. The culprits behind the kidnappings are unknown. Some suspect illegal gangs, other suspect backlash from extremist members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who believe that the Christian population is responsible for the removal and imprisonment of former President Mohamed Morsi. However, the exorbitant demands for ransom indicate that the kidnappings are conducted for financial gain, rather than for principle.
Creator of Pro-Brotherhood Facebook Page Arrested in Tanta
In a statement on their social media page, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of a man who created the “Tanta Anti-Coup Movement” Facebook page. The page, which was created in August 2013, places blame on the interim government for the overthrow Mohammad Morsi in July. It has over 10,400 likes.
The statement labels the man, who was only identified by his initials and birth year, a “Muslim Brotherhood terrorist,” and announced that he was charged with “spreading false news, inciting violence against security forces,” and “spreading personal information of security officers.” Egyptian forces seized computers and flash-drives from the suspect’s home and an investigation is being conducted.
The Ministry of Interior has been attempting to identify supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood since their designation as a terrorist organization in November 2013. Opposition parties have cited an uneven reaction to pro-Brotherhood supporters, and an increase in the monitoring, and sometimes arrest and detention of civilians who oppose the current interim government or the military, regardless of whether they support the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite attempts to monitor online messaging, particularly on social media sites, Egyptian security forces do not have the personnel or capability to necessary consistently conduct cyber-surveillance on activists and their many forums.
Textile Workers Strike Enters Second Week
Around 20,000 workers at the state-owned Holding Company for Cotton Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla continued their strike to demand demanding late wages, the resignation of company Chairman Abdel-Alim Hassan, and the replacement of the company’s commissioner, Abdel Fattah Al-Zoghby. The company has already lost between 15 and 20 million Egyptian pounds (EGP).
The workers are demanding late wages for two months, totalling 155 million EGP. Despite the new legislation setting the minimum monthly income for public employees at 1,200 EGP, there are thousands of workers that earn only 500 EGP a month. On Saturday, management promised workers that they would receive their bonuses by the evening, but the workers did not receive the wages, and so continued strike action.
Thousands of employees from textiles company Kafr Al-Dawar have protested in solidarity with the Mahalla workers. Employees from Kafr Al-Dawar are also demanding the new government-sanctioned minimum wage for public workers.