TINYg Supporter Falanx Assynt Predictions and Analysis – Egypt

Predictions

Attacks in al-Arish and Cairo indicate militants will seek to undermine al-Sisi as Government prepares to put constitutional reforms to public vote

Authorities will prevent majority of sophisticated attacks outside of North Sinai region, and violence will primarily target security forces and government interests

President’s ongoing crackdown on sources of domestic dissent, including suppression of Islamists, will ensure lack of unrest around referendum on constitutional changes

Analysis

Islamic State (IS)’s local affiliate Ansar Jerusalem (AJ) carried out an attack on the Gouda 3 checkpoint near al-Arish airport in the North Sinai Peninsula on 16 February that killed and injured fifteen Egyptian soldiers. In response, security forces conducted two raids in al-Arish three days later, killing sixteen suspected militants. Separately, three police officers were killed in an attack close to the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo on 17 February, after the assailant detonated an IED as police attempted to arrest him. Authorities traced the attacker after linking him to the planting of an explosive device in Giza City on 15 February. Cairo blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack, although the assailant was most likely connected to the Movement of the Hands of Egypt (HASM), a breakaway militant faction of the Brotherhood.

Insurgency in the North Sinai region has increased significantly since 2013, and Cairo launched Comprehensive Operation Sinai in February 2018 after an attack at the al-Rawda mosque in North Sinai in November 2017 killed around 300 individuals. The nationwide state of emergency instituted in April 2017 has meanwhile contributed to a reduction in the tempo of coordinated attacks in mainland Egypt. Nevertheless, militants retain the intent to undermine the Government by demonstrating it is unable to guarantee the safety of both Egyptians – including Coptic Christians, a key element of President al-Sisi’s support base – and foreign visitors. Indeed, a 28 December IED attack near the Giza pyramid complex which killed three Vietnamese tourists was most likely conducted by HASM militants, in the hope that an attack near a major tourist site would damage the economy and so undermine the President.

Militants likely planned the latest attacks to embarrass al-Sisi amid ongoing efforts by the Government to pass constitutional reforms that would allow the President to retain power until 2034. Indeed, MPs voted on 14 February to send planned constitutional amendments to Parliament’s constitutional and legislative affairs committee, paving the way for a national referendum on the changes. The al-Arish attack is notably the most significant violence against a police or military post since Comprehensive Operation Sinai, which was launched shortly before March’s presidential election. AJ will have hoped this would demonstrate that the security forces’ campaign has not limited the group’s capabilities, thereby damaging al-Sisi’s security credentials and weakening his position.

Both AJ and HASM militants will seek to launch further attacks around the date of the referendum on the Government’s constitutional changes. Security forces will be the primary targets of such violence, with the Government prioritising security at tourist and Coptic Christian sites. The capabilities of security forces will meanwhile prevent the majority of sophisticated plots outside the North Sinai region. The Army’s aggressive counter-insurgency tactics in the Peninsula will, however, fuel resentment towards Cairo. Jihadists will seek to capitalise on local anger for recruitment purposes, and so militancy in North Sinai is unlikely to subside in the coming year.

Al-Sisi will meanwhile continue to crack down on sources of domestic dissent ahead of a referendum on constitutional changes. Indeed, authorities arrested four members of the Liberal Constitution Party immediately following the 14 February parliamentary vote. Nine individuals accused of killing Egypt’s former top prosecutor in 2015 were also executed on 20 February, indicating that the Government will continue its extensive suppression of Islamists. This will help ensure that there is no credible opposition that could coordinate major anti-government protests, meaning that any unrest around the referendum allowing for al-Sisi’s extended rule remains unlikely.

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