Egyptian courts have ruled that the national state of emergency ended at 4 pm on Tuesday 14 November. Curfews that have been in place since 14 August have been lifted. The curfew was in place shortly following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi; economists are hopeful that the lifting of the curfew will result in a critical resurgence to the economy. Both the state of emergency and curfew were intended to last a month, however the government extended it for two more months on September 12. According to the Egyptian law, the government cannot extend a curfew beyond a three month period.
The Egyptian government is also in the process of drafting legislation to regulate demonstrations. To many activists, this is seen as a danger to their right to civil protests. The draft is currently in the hands of Interim President Adly Monsour, who in the absence of a parliament is the sole voice to decide on the issue.
Though the numbers have dwindled considerably, Morsi supporters have persisted in continuing demonstrations. On 11 November, protestors clashed with security forces at two universities north of Cairo on Tuesday. In Mansoura, four people were wounded in the clashes that also involved local residents. In Zagazig, five people were wounded clashes. Morsi, whose trial was delayed until January, remains in solitary confinement, reportedly at Burg el Arab prison in Alexandria. The former president will stand trial in connection to the killing of protesters outside of the presidential palace in December.
Meanwhile, Egyptians are awaiting a referendum on a new constitution, to take place in December. A 50- member committee has been tasked with evaluating and redesigning the current constitution, and have worked toward eliminating repressive passages, including restrictions on church construction. During Morsi’s tenure in office, he and his constitutional assembly, which were predominantly members of his Muslim Brotherhood party, developed a largely Islamist constitution, including a law that would make shari’a law, the Islamic legal system, applicable to the whole of Egypt.
Members of the Coptic Church, who comprise approximately 10% of the population, have felt that under the leadership of Morsi, the Christian population became increasingly marginalised. Following the removal of Morsi, the population was heavily targeted by Morsi supporters, including the destruction of Coptic owned properties and businesses.
Currently, the constitution has been redrafted to become increasingly secular. The committee eliminated a restriction that required Egypt’s Christians to obtain a presidential permit to build, repair or even renovate a church. Committee member Mohamed Abul-Ghar said, “Under a liberal constitution, all Egyptians, particularly Christians, must be allowed to build their own places of worship freely”. Still other proposals include suggestions to ban all political parties based upon religion.
Egypt is working to boost the economy with a tender for the development of the Suez Canal by the end of the month, in an effort to boost an economy struggling with political turmoil since 2011.
A spokesman for the project said, “No country is taking the lead, it is an Egyptian project and we are going to finalize the first stage by finalizing this tender by the end of this month.” Currently, Egypt’s economy benefits from about $5 billion a year in tolls for using the canal.
In addition, Egypt is also planning to launch an international tender in January to build its first nuclear power station. The development was announced on 14 November before talks with Russian officials on cooperation between the two countries. Egypt has suffered heavy fuel shortages since the 2011 uprising, which have placed a on power generating capabilities to the 85 million strong population, forcing power cuts and prompting energy-intensive industries to buy electricity from private suppliers at high prices. Former Trade and Industry Minister Hatem Saleh said in April that Russia had agreed to help Egypt develop atomic energy.
On 14 November, Russian and Egyptian senior officials met in Egypt to discuss military and economic cooperation between the two nations. While Egyptian officials have said that Egypt is not turning away from the United States, the meeting is a signal that the Egyptian government has options, with ties to Russian government going back several decades.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy downplayed speculation of a major foreign policy shift, saying, “We seek to energize a relationship that is already in existence,” and adding that Egypt is not looking for a “substitute for anyone”; Russia is too significant for such a role. Fahmy called the meeting an “activation” of existing ties and spoke of cooperation between the two countries “in multiple fields.”However the Egyptian government has expressed interest in purchasing Russian weaponry, in particular air defence missile systems and MiG-29 fighter jets, combat helicopters and other weapons. While there is speculation of how Egypt will afford the price tag of these items, an unnamed Egyptian military general close to army leadership said Egypt was close to signing a $2 billion deal with Russia for the purchase of 24 MiG fighter-jets as well as anti-tank missiles and an air-defence system.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shogiu, who vowed to develop military ties and increase bilateral contacts, said, “I expect to continue a constructive dialogue on the entire spectrum of military and military-technical issues.”
It is likely that the weaponry requested by Egypt is in an effort to continue pursuit of extremist networks, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. Since the removal of Morsi on 3 July, the region has seen a significant increase in violence, particularly aimed at security forces. On Tuesday, Officer Tareq Mohamed Zaki was gunned down in North Sinai as he left a police station in Arish.
A security cordon has been placed around the police station to hunt down the attackers. Since July, hundreds of police and military troops have been targeted. The Egyptian army has responded with what military experts are calling the largest military operation on the peninsula since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, with the aim of combating “militancy and terrorism.”
Following a devastating terrorist attack on members of Pakistan’s small Christian minority at the weekend, leading community figures are expressing concerns both about the reaction of major political figures and despair about the government’s apparent inability to prevent such attacks, along with fear about the possibility the community may be targeted again. Pakistan has seen widespread demonstrations and unrest as a result of the bombing, attributed to factions of the Pakistani Taliban and widely seen as likely torpedoing recent government overtures to the militants controlling large parts of the country.
The attack happened on Sunday, 22nd September. Two suicide bombers attacked the congregation at the 100 year old All Saints church in Peshawar just after the Sunday service had finished. 85 people were killed in the blasts, which left over 120 injured. This was Pakistan’s worst ever attack on the Christian minority, and it bore the hallmarks of many similar incidents targeting Pakistan’s Shia population.
Junood ul-Hifsa, a branch of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP, the ‘Pakistani Taliban)’, claimed responsibility for the attack. This is the same group that reportedly murdered 11 foreign climbers at the base of the mountain Nanga Parbat in June this year. Junood ul-Hifsa was reportedly established to target foreigners and non-Muslims in retaliation for American drone strikes against militants. Another terrorist group with links to the TTP, Jandullah, also claimed responsibility for the attack, and it remains unclear who exactly perpetrated the bombing as yet. The TTP’s main spokesman officially denounced the bombing; however the TTP’s usual practice is to deny involvement in bombings with large civilian casualties.
The attack led to widespread protests and community anger throughout the country. Crowds took to the streets in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to demonstrate against the Government’s apparent failure to protect minority groups, with the police being forced to use tear gas in some cases. Increasing ethnic homogenisation has seen Pakistan’s ethnic minority population decrease from 15% to 4% currently. Christians make up only 1.8% of Pakistan’s population, and are an extremely politically weak ethnic group as a result.
While this is the first major terrorist attack on Christians (with past attacks often focusing on Shia Muslims instead), the Christian minority has for many years suffered from persecution in the country. Largely poor and impoverished, they have been a common target for vindictive prosecutions under blasphemy laws, which are largely used to settle scores. In March of this year, communal violence erupted after blasphemy accusations and saw the torching of dozens of Christians homes by a Muslim mob, while in 2010 a prominent politician who defended a Christian accused of blasphemy was murdered by his own police bodyguard. Members of Pakistan’s Christian community worry that the country’s spiralling Sunni/Shia violence will begin to spill over and target them in future after this latest attack.
The incident is also a blow for the Pakistani government’s hope to begin some form of peace talks with the TTP. The government of Nawaz Sharif had been criticised in the past for focusing on economic issues and lacking any clear political will to tackle Pakistan’s deteriorating security situation. However, late last month they made a controversial overture to the TTP regarding the possibility of negotiations. These talks divided the Taliban movement, with some rejecting any possibility of talks and others cautiously welcoming the possibility. The chances of success are now low, after both this attack and the murder of a senior army commander last week. Some analysts believe the offer of talks by the government is in fact a ploy – by offering seemingly impossible negotiations to an extremely fragmentary coalition of terrorists, the subsequent breakdown of talks may allow the government to build public support for a harsh military crackdown to restore some semblance of order.
While in the past foreigners were rarely targeted in the country’s endemic terrorist violence, the attack on Nanga Parbat on June and this recent bombing of Christian’s suggests attacks may be broadening in scope from their traditional targets of security forces or Shia Muslims. An extremely high degree of security awareness should be maintained at all times while in Pakistan.