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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