Analysis: The Sharm el-Sheikh Bombings

First of all, I’d like to thank Bill Roggio for giving me the opportunity to blog on recent events concerning the Sinai bombings while WoC is having its Good News Saturday. For those who haven’t been following the recent trend of Islamist violence in Egypt I would recommend this post covering the Taba bombings as well as the relevant results from this search on Rantburg. Oddly enough, for those who know my history, this is one of those rare moments when I find myself agreeing with Juan Cole in his initial analysis of the attacks.

Ever since terrorism came back on the radar screen last October, the Egyptian government has attempted first to cover up and then to obfuscate the actual situation in the country. It is still far from clear to me as far as what actually happened in the last several terrorist attacks and I suspect that Mubarak is keeping things equally ambiguous to other governments for fear that they might actually warn anyone planning to visit the pyramids this summer that they might stand a good chance of being blown up within the comfort of the hotel room. The tourist trade is a huge money-maker in Egypt and the decision by both Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Gamaa al-Islamiyyah to target it during the 1990s was one of the main reasons that both groups lost a good deal of popular support in their traditional strongholds in Upper (southern) Egypt. The fact that yesterday’s car bombers decided to go after foreign tourists (including foreign Arabs), while it “makes sense” from jihadi perspective, is only going to serve to further divorce the terrorists from those they are purportedly fighting for.

One of the things that will be interesting to see as the investigation progresses is whether or not all of the Gamaa al-Islamiyyah members that Mubarak let out of jail under the current “truce” between their organization and the government was really worth it or whether, as is so often the case, the terrorists have simply resumed their activities upon release regardless of the wishes of their politburo. More likely, however, is that these are members of al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad cadres, either left over from the 1990s or a new batch that were set up post-Luxor. Another possibility is that this is the work of followers of Gamaa’s external wing, which has vehemently denounced the truce brokered by the group’s Egypt-based leadership as nothing less than apostasy.

These attacks, like their counterparts in London, should help to clarify much of the commentary that has arisen since the London bombings as to why the United Kingdom was attacked on a number of points:

1. Are these terrorist attacks a sign that al Qaeda has regained its capabilities?

As a decentralized organization that uses individual terrorist cells to carry out attacks, there is a certain element of meaninglessness that comes out of the term “capabilities” within this context. Different cells have different degrees of skills, expertise, and patience that enable them to carry out successful terrorist operations. In addition, different countries rely on different degrees of security for a variety of reasons, which is why it’s easier to carry out attacks in London than it is in Cairo. The former is the capital of one of the most open and accepting societies in the world, the latter is the center of an authoritarian police state so carrying out an attack in Egypt requires a far greater degree of time, ability, and patience that is not needed in order to strike Britain.

2. Is the Sharm el-Sheikh bombing related to the Iraq war?

Only peripherally in that Iraq is now the center of al Qaeda’s war against the US. The Egyptian Islamists have been actively trying, with varying degrees of success, to overthrow the Egyptian government through violence ever since the early 1970s and these bombings should be seen as the latest manifestation of that campaign. While Egypt is one of the most visible US allies in the Middle East, it did not contribute in any meaningful way to the Iraq war and hence would be quite far down the al Qaeda hit list if not for the existence the prior Islamist project noted earlier that is so near and dear to both the network’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as well as its current military chief Saif al-Adel. If Iraq were the sole motivator, Kuwait and Qatar, both of whom host large numbers of US troops and/or military facilities that were used during the actual invasion, would rank considerably ahead of Egypt in the jihadist mindset.

3. Is the Sharm el-Sheikh bombing related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Again, only peripherally. While it is true that the Egyptian Islamists greatly increased their numbers by drawing on military personnel angry over Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel and that a common slogan within these circles is “The road to Jerusalem runs through Cairo,” for al-Zawahiri as with Hamas the only real issue of dispute with Israel is the existence of Jewish state. I strongly suspect that those who believe that a Palestinian state would somehow mollify the attitudes of al-Zawahiri or his fellow travelers are sorely mistaken, however. Al-Zawahiri in particular subscribes to a pseudo-Trotskyite “smash the state” mentality in which all nations must dissolve back into the Caliphate. There is no reason to suspect that he would want to make an exception when it comes to Palestine.

4. What will this mean for Egypt?

In the short term? Likely mass detentions. During the Taba bombings, the Egyptian security forces arrested thousands of people who just happened to be in the general vicinity of where the blasts occurred. This was a tried-and-true strategy that worked (as long as you don’t care about avoiding any semblance of a conception of individual rights) during the 1990s, but it’s unclear whether or not this was effective with regard to Taba due to the general murkiness as far as what has been released concerning the case.

These blasts also make clear to anyone who isn’t a blithering moron (or blaming Mossad) that Egypt has an Islamist problem that is in many ways encouraged by the state-run media, which is one of the most anti-Semitic institutions on the planet. Only by being honest with its allies can Egypt make sure that the bombing at Sharm el-Sheikh is the last of such events for a long, long time, which I suspect Mubarak does want, at least if he hopes to keep the spice flowing when it comes to the tourist trade.

5. If suicide bombings were involved in the Sharm el-Sheikh attack, does this prove or disprove Pape’s thesis?

We don’t know enough about the bombers or their motivations to speculate. However, according to Reuters, the two terrorist attacks last April were both suicide bombings. Egypt, last I checked, isn’t occupying anything, nor were France (though some Ivorians might differ) or Sweden, both of whose nationals were killed in those attacks. The problem with Pape and his “occupation causes terrorism” shtick, at least from the interviews, is that it seems that he either accepts the Islamist arguments concerning grievances uncritically or he dumbs down and psychoanalyzes the meaning of occupation that it becomes useless as an objective analytical tool.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! I just wanted to take the opportunity to note Brian Ulrich’s analysis, which points out that today is Revolution Day in Egypt, celebrating the coup that brought the current regime to power and that it’s likely to be mostly Egyptians who are staying at the hotel during the holiday season.

Also, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades that have claimed credit for previous attacks in Egypt are saying this is their work. According to the Israeli analysis listed in the WoC post at the top, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are part of al Qaeda’s international network of terrorist cells.

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34 Comments

  • heliotrope says:

    Conspiracy thinking in the embryo stage: The Egyptian chemist that scooted out of London on 7/7 and was “arrested” in Egypt and then fell off the radar. I am not saying he was involved, I am implying he was the catalyst.
    How about the militant Islamists in Egypt whacking Sharm el-Sheikh in the same way they whacked Sadat?
    I expect to see a lot of Islamic fire fights throughout the Islamic world. Sort of their version of the avian flu.
    Just look at all of the places they are stirring things up through out the world and it is often in places where civil war is not off the table.
    These people thrive in the squalor of unrest. Jihad depends on massacre and subjugation. Those subjugated are infidel, but useful infidel. Somebody has to clean up after the camel.

  • vucommodore says:

    How many of these jihadist idiots are there?? I used to think this was a small group until all sorts of things started blowing up. Suicide bombers blow up every day in Iraq and there seems to be no end to their supply.
    These guys must be stupid or something. They killed mostly Arabs and are going to cost their country billions of dollars in lost tourism. If their goal is to take over the world, they sure aren’t going to do it by being poor.

  • Dan Darling says:

    Per Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda has the active support of ~7,000,000 Muslims, out of whom over 100,000 are willing to take up arms.

  • vucommodore says:

    Who is Rohan Gunaratna?

  • Dan Darling says:

    The author of “Inside Al-Qaeda” and one of the better experts on the subject.

  • Justin Capone says:

    Zarqawi, Bin Laden, and Zawahiri all have one of their main long term goals as taking over their home countries of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
    One of the ways to do that is to try to make their countries failed states by destroying their economies. Remember Zarqawi wanted to kill tens of thousands of Jordanians with a chemical attack on Amman.
    One reason nothing changes in the Middle East is that these regimes always blame the US and the Jews for terrorist attacks and the Egyptians are doing it again with this blast.
    read this
    //www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/603652.html

  • Cheryl says:

    Any chance they will eventually eliminate themselves? Perhaps it will take some time, but regardless we are in this for the long-term.
    I’m not trying to be sarcastic — If there are 100,000 willing to be suicide bombers, is that a relevant question? Or due to their huge populations and 7M supports, there is no possiblity they will kill themselves off?
    BTW, great to see you posting here on 4th Dan.
    Cheryl

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    IMHO – If one wants to have a ‘Thugistan’, then controlling information flow, especially to your own supporters is paramount. Discrediting media organizations as “Propaganda Mouthpieces” is fairly easy these days. Discrediting judgements based on personal contact is much more difficult to do.
    Attacking Egyptian tourists sites is a ‘twofer’, destroying the Egyptian economy was one motivation.
    Limiting exposure of the “faithful” to ‘evil infidels’. (If the faithful found out the infidels weren’t so evil, recruiting goes down.
    IMHO This was the motivation in Bali, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, as well as blowing up Iraqi children getting candy from US troops.
    IMHO, the British Bombings are designed to degrade European support in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Their have been endless press reports about a “recruiting crisis” and US troops being spread too thin. II MEF commander gave a press briefing on Friday that he had 30,000 coalition troops plus 10,000 Iraqi troops in his AOR, which is primarily AlAnbar province in Iraq(previous reports //www.globasecurity.org put the number at 23,000 and pretty close to zero Iraqi forces). As AlAnbar pretty much represents the majority of AlQueda’s support base in Iraq, this is a huge problem for them. Too many Americans, being too nice to the local population, (refraining from the raping and pillaging meme Al Queda is spreading). On the Afghan front, a significant increase in US troops is underway in preperation for the upcoming elections. Al Queda is already feeling the pinch, so it will only get worse.
    The asassination of the various Arab ambassadors is an effort to recast Iraq as a “Apostate Converter Nation kneeling at the feet of the cross-worshipers”. This meme will be necessary when Al Queda loses in Iraq in order to discredit any information that might flow from a fellow muslim country.

  • praktike says:

    Dan, my understanding is that EIJ has always been stronger in Cairo whereas EIG is more of a Sa3idi thang.

  • Dan Darling says:

    Praktike:
    That was the general rule in the past, but I don’t believe that either group carried out attacks in the Sinai.

  • Terrorists demand Egyptian troops leave Iraq

    Wait, Egypt doesn’t have any troops in Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Nor were there ever.

  • Cutler says:

    “Per Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda has the active support of ~7,000,000 Muslims, out of whom over 100,000 are willing to take up arms.”
    How’d he come up with that low-ball estimate?

  • Cutler says:

    The last International Pew Poll [you know, the one that got so much favorable press], put Bin Laden’s personal favorable rating at 60% in Jordan [the only Arab country surveyed], and 51% in Pakistan.
    Certainly a percentage only likes him because he embarrassed us, but estimating 100,000 [or 1% of the Islamic world] seems impossibly low.

  • Cutler says:

    “Certainly a percentage only likes him because he embarrassed us, but estimating 100,000 [or 1% of the Islamic world] seems impossibly low.”
    Sorry, that should be “but estimating 7,000,000 [or actually less than 1% of the Islamic world] seems impossibly low.

  • Colt says:

    Cutler: I think ‘active support’ would involve material support, finance, etc, as opposed to those who support A-Q without actively assisting them.
    Most of the nefarious goings-on in the Sinai lead back to the Bedouin – smuggling to Gaza, Taba, etc.

  • Dan Darling says:

    Cutler:
    In addition to what Colt said, you have to remember that al-Qaeda is a clandestine or shadow organization. Large numbers of Jordanians may well want to support bin Laden for whatever reason, but they have no way of actively doing so.

  • Colt says:

    Egypt will probably try to use this as a reason to remilitarise the Sinai – how else to capture the suspects who escape to the Bedouin?

  • Colt says:

    Debka (salt-pinchin’ time) says that Egypt has already asked Israel for permission to send thousands of troops in to the Sinai.

  • Cutler says:

    “Per Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda has the active support of ~7,000,000 Muslims, out of whom over 100,000 are willing to take up arms.”
    Sorry for the misunderstanding, I read “active support” as sympathizing. Are you sure Mr. Gunaratna intended it as you do?

  • NROnik says:

    Dan, You are getting some love from NRO too. Good take on this bombing.
    //corner.nationalreview.com/05_07_17_corner-archive.asp#070561

  • Walter E. Wallis says:

    In a different kind of war you need a different kind of fight. The enemy hides within a civilian population and relies on official cooperation. We must give officials and civilians a reason to refuse that cooperation. One way is a blockade and quarantine.

  • Jim Rockford says:

    CNN reports that Mubarak owns property at Sharm-el-Sheik. Was this attack aimed at demonstrating his impotence at protecting his own interests?
    And … big question … could there be a nasty Islamic coup brewing as Mubarak ages, gets sick (isn’t he undergoing chemo?) and his heir seems uncertain? I mean, now would be the time to move wouldn’t it? While the Americans are distracted and Mubarak looks weak?

  • Ian Duncan says:

    I have found the Robert Pape analysis (or at least his exposition of it on CSpan and O’Reilly) to be the only convincing counter-theory to the neo-con theory of democratization (which arguably seems to be having a hard time taking root in Iraq).
    Can anyone provide links to thoughtful analysis/discussion of the Pape position?

  • vucommodore says:

    I think both theories (neo-con and pape’s) are wrong. The Neo-Con theory is wrong because terrorism does breed in free societies. It often breeds to a greater degree in free societies because it is much more difficult to conspire in a police state. This form of terrorism is simply a result of the teaching of Salafist/Wahhabist imams in Madrassahs and becomes more attractive to young men as a result of pictures from Gaza, Iraq, etc. on TV.
    Pape’s theory is more applicable to the IRA, ETA, Tamil Tigers or groups like that (even Hezbollah, PLO, etc.) but not Al Qaeda. The question is WHY does Al Qaeda want Western troops out of the Middle East. It is because Al Qaeda wants less protection for secular muslim dictatorships so they have a better chance of overthrowing them and establishing Taliban-like theocracies. Withdrawing completely from the Middle East may lessen attacks for a while because it will focus them on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, etc. but in the long run will sow greater instability. Attacks on western countries will probably still occur but to a lesser degree. In the 21st century, the world does not need an iron curtain of islamic theocracy ruling 1/4 of the world or Osama Bin Laden having leverage over the world economy because he controls most of the world’s oil supply.
    There has to emerge a centrist (realist) ideology that rejects both extremes. We have to avoid backing down and allowing Al Qaeda free reign over the Middle East but also avoid pre-emptive invasions that create the images that help terrorism thrive unless absolutely necessary (like Afghanistan). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to be resolved with a fair two-state solution ceding mostly all of the territories and East Jerusalem to the Palestinians in exchange for them relinquishing their right of return. The United States should revert to a more fair policy towards Israel like was in place during Bush I’s presidency. We have to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq AS SOON as the Iraqi army is ready to maintain control and no later. Encouraging democratization of Arab States is excellent and will help a great deal. But shoving it down their throats through bombing and invasion helps terrorists more than anything. We have to put pressure on the secular dictators of the Middle East (like the Saudis) to reform and stop funding schools that teach extremist forms of Islam. If these regimes continue to fund madrassahs, their aid should be cut off.
    The policy of the West in the Middle East has to be reviewed to see why average Arabs (both muslim and christian) hate us so much. 88% of Lebanese muslims have a negative view of the United States while 82% of Lebanese Christians do also. There really isn’t much of a difference in Arab opinion regardless of religion. Unless one is ready to assume that Arabs are inherently stupid or irrational, then there must be a root cause as to why we are so hated by average people.

  • Kartik says:

    Lebanse Christians most certainly don’t have the same thinking as Lebanese Muslim, and the assertions that Arabs think the same regardless of religion is absurd.
    1) Name on instance of a Christain Lebanese or Syrian suicide bomber
    2) Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Abu Sayef in the Philipines, etc. are not Arabs. Yet, they do the same terrorism. The London bombings were done by Pakistanis.
    Most sane people understand why they hate all non-Muslims (not just the US). Foolish liberals refuse to admit that Islam is, itself, the reason for their behaviour.

  • Colt says:

    Ian Duncan:
    Winds of Changes has a good series – go to the site and search ‘Pape’.
    vucommodore:

    The Neo-Con theory is wrong because terrorism does breed in free societies. It often breeds to a greater degree in free societies because it is much more difficult to conspire in a police state.

    The ideological terrorist groups that develop in free societies often have sponsorship from foreign dictatorships, and usually preach an ideology that is completely alien to the free society in which they operate.
    For instance, Yugoslav intelligence infiltrated a group of Italian Marxists at the University of Trento. They guided their indoctrination, and maintained high-level links throughout the terrorist attacks of the 1970s and onwards. The Brigate Rosse, or the Red Brigades, were ultimately a product of Yugoslav intelligence, who followed an ideology utterly alien to Italy.
    The Marxist terror groups of the Cold War that operated in the West were hated by Westerners, virtually without exception. You’ve quoted some pretty disturbing figures WRT how we’re regarded by Arabs, and indirectly what a serious proportion of that 88%/82% of those people think of jihadist terrorists.
    The fact is that jihadist groups have a much stronger ideological connection to Arab-Islamic culture. For instance, you might see checkpoints and fences, but many, many Arabs will see some 1,400 years of subjugation overturned – and giving the Arabs the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem isn’t going to change that.
    The issue isn’t that humans are sometimes nihilists, and no-one is claiming they will erase nihilism. For what it’s worth, I disagree with the idea that Islamic democracy will ‘drain the swamp’. But you shouldn’t misrepresent ‘neo-con theory’.

  • Colt says:

    Also, the Saudis are not secular dictators…

  • vucommodore says:

    Kartik:
    Islam (radical islam) is definitely the reason for the terrorism. But most people on the Arab street are not radical muslims but many of them give tacit support to the terrorists.
    Arab Muslims and Christians are VERY different in every way. But they both tend to have negative views of US policies in the region which is why I think there must a reason why they’re both angered. There have been no Arab Christian suicide bombers but George Hadash (founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) is Christian and many of his gunmen and terrorists were also. There have been other Christian terrorists in the Middle East but Al Qaeda is an entirely muslim phenomenon.

  • herbw says:

    Regarding the motivation behind suicide bombers, it has been reported that many of their families have received monetary rewards for the brutalities committed by their sons and daughters. Further, especially in the case of Palestinian bombers, the parents have openly spoken of the pride they feel because their children died for “the cause”.
    So, consider a radical, terrible, and horribly effective deterrent: assassinate the families of suicide bombers. Yes, innocents will die, but word would surely travel quickly to potential perpetrators of terror and a powerful disincentive could diminish the bloodshed. Yes, we would sink to the level of our enemies…but all is fair in a streetfight if you want to walk away the winner.
    Let’s stop trying to be civilized.

  • vucommodore says:

    herbw:
    and then when if act like that and target civilians, we’re no better than them

  • Robert Schwartz says:

    Pape is the intellectual decendant of Procrustes the legendary highwayman of Attica, who tied his victims to an iron bed. If they were too short, Procrustes stretched them until they fit the bed, and if they were too long, he cut off as much of their their legs as was required to fit them to the bed.

  • Colt says:

    Lebanese Christians are likely to give a skewed representation, after the U.S. accepted Syrian occupation of Lebanon for so long – and at the cost of the Christians.
    Arab Christians are also likely to want to avoid being thought of as a Crusader-Zionist fifth column. That isn’t to say they’re fond of us, but in their neighbourhood, keeping a low profile is advisable.

  • leaddog2 says:

    VUCommodore,
    I have noticed that you ALWAYS fail to tell the Truth. You always slant the real world facts to fit your totally warped left-wing ideology.
    As an example George Hadash was a Marxist killer. He was a disciple and an ardent admirer of Joseph Stalin. His organization was just like him. He was an avowed atheist.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis