When a car bomb detonated outside a security building in Cairo on August 20 it marked a new turn in the long-running series of violent attacks on the Egyptian capital. The explosion wounded approximately 27 people, six of whom are policemen, but there appear to have been no deaths.
The attack has been claimed by a group calling itself the Sinai Province (SP) which is affiliated to Islamic State (IS). SP has stated that the bomb was in response to the execution of six of its members accused of a similar attack in Cairo last year. Though there were no deaths this time, the quickening rate of such attacks shows that al-Sisi’s measures against terrorism have been grossly ineffective.
This bomb is in fact the latest of a long series of violent attacks that focus particularly on Egyptian police and security forces, which since 2013 have gradually moved from the Sinai province to the country’s capital.
Most of these recent blasts have been claimed by the Islamist militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis based in the Sinai desert, which also identifies itself as a branch of IS under the name Sinai Peninsula (SP).
This unprecedented attack speaks to the explosive growth of Egypt’s array of insurgent forces and their violent opposition to al-Sisi, which the state’s authoritarian security measures have failed to curb.
Point of no return
This latest attack comes within a week of a new anti-terrorism law, which itself followed the assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor. The new law has been strongly criticised by international organisations and observers for being “so broadly worded it could encompass civil disobedience” – therefore further enabling the regime’s already unprecedented brutality and unfettered policing power.
Overall, the attacks and the authoritarian response both betray a deep insecurity that is tearing through Egypt, defying the regime’s attempts to crush all opposition with the security services.
The growing insurgency forces seem to be emerging as the winners in al-Sisi’s battle against Islamist militants and are therefore chipping away at the regime’s claims of conducting a successful campaign against its opponents.
As far as many ordinary Egyptians are concerned, the country is less secure now that it was before the 2013 coup. Despite the government’s extravagant projects of political repression, internal instability and dissent are at an all-time high. In his obsessive race to control and secure everything, al-Sisi appears to have lost what little popular support he had; the country’s international reputation is now critically damaged and hurtling towards the point of no return.
State of emergency
The appeal of the IS brand has now been firmly established across not just the Middle East, but North Africa. In recent months, swaths of territory in Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sinai have been “annexed” by IS, and wilayats (“provinces”) set up in these areas. Many of these wilayats were pre-existing groups that had already made a tactic of violence, including Ansar Beit al-Maqdis – the group that has since become SP.
The statement the group apparently posted on Twitter in the aftermath of the attack was flavoured with furious retribution: “Let the apostates of the police and army, the followers of Jews, know we are a people who do not forget our revenge.”
But the statement has implications far beyond revenge. It sends a stark message not only to those in targeted states, but also to anyone thinking of visiting them – a serious problem for states that depend upon tourism for their economy. Tunisia, in particular, is already feeling the heat on that front.
While the increasingly unstable Sinai has long been a cause of great concern for Israel, this latest incident brings the situation much closer to home for al-Sisi and his lieutenants.
They can simply no longer pretend that their iron-fisted approach is working – and the new anti-terrorism bill doesn’t help their case. Intended to hobble any new opposition groups before they can gather momentum, it also places Egypt in a seemingly constant state of emergency reminiscent of Mubarak’s Emergency Law. More than anything, it betrays what may well be a growing panic at the very top of the regime.