New Islamic State franchise threatens Egypt

February 16, 2016
A general view of the site of a bomb blast at the Italian Consulate is seen in Cairo, Egypt, July 11, 2015. A bomb exploded in front of the Italian consulate in Cairo on Saturday, killing one person, the health ministry and security officials said, raising the possibility that Islamist militants could open a new front against foreigners. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The site of a bomb blast at the Italian Consulate in Cairo, July 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

On Jan. 21, days before the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s fabled revolution, police in Cairo raided a slum in the crowded Ahram neighborhood. Booby-trapped bombs went off in a scene more reminiscent of Fallujah, Iraq, than Egypt’s capital. Six officers and three civilians were killed, and an entire floor of the mid-size apartment block was leveled. The bombing was the latest in a string of attacks claimed by a new Islamic State group that calls itself “Misr” — or “Egypt” in Arabic.

The Misr network is an ominously peculiar militant creation. It is not designated as an official “province,” an Islamic State-controlled territory, or wilaya, like the group’s Sinai and Libyan counterparts. Yet Misr’s name and the ability of its cells to regroup after being hit hard by police suggest that this offshoot of the world’s most powerful jihadist group is out to threaten stability in Egypt’s heartland. If ignored, it may well achieve it.

Meanwhile, the Sisi regime is continuing its relentless purges of any traces of the once influential Muslim Brotherhood. Like the Cairo police raid, however, the repercussions of the government’s actions could be far worse than expected. Because President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi might ultimately deliver thousands of disillusioned Islamists into the toxic ideological embrace of Islamic State’s “caliphate.”

Security officials gesture at the site of a bomb blast at a national security building in Shubra Al-Khaima on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt August 20, 2015. At least six people were wounded early on Thursday in the car bombing near the state security building and courthouse in the Cairo suburb, security sources said.  REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Security officials at the site of a bomb blast at a national security building in Shubra Al-Khaima on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, August 20, 2015. AREUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Misr launched with a car bombing against the Italian consulate in Cairo, in July 2015. It again drew public attention the following month, with a bomb so powerful it was heard across the Cairo megalopolis. The target was the Qalubiya Province Security Directorate, just north of the capital.

Though its Sinai counterpart stole the headlines, Misr has since carried out more than 10 sophisticated attacks in Egypt’s highly defended capital, hitting symbols of power as well as tourism attractions.

Over the seven months since its creation, Misr has moved from sophisticated one-off bombings to more frequent, yet simpler attacks. It’s a worrying shift in modus operandi that indicates an effort to ignite and maintain a low-level insurgency in the neighborhoods once dominated by the disintegrating Muslim Brotherhood. These attacks and their targets actually bear a striking semblance to those carried out by violent Muslim Brotherhood offshoots, known as “Popular Committees,” in the year after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster in 2013.

Skeptics of Islamic State’s potential in Egypt argue that Sisi’s rise to power demonstrates the wider public’s fierce nationalism and its strong support for the military. These attitudes, they argue, will prevent Islamic State from ever being able to take root in Egypt, as it has in the Sinai Peninsula and in Libya.

In the five years since Arab Spring protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak, however, Sisi’s crackdown has virtually demolished the marketplace for dissenting political activism. It has created a dangerous ideological vacuum that Islamic State now threatens to fill.

The disorganized liberal youth groups that spearheaded the 2011 revolution have failed to find a political voice in a society polarized over demands for security and stability. Meanwhile, the once well-oiled Muslim Brotherhood social and political machine is in shambles. The group’s leaders are either exiled, jailed or dead, and its grass-roots support base left fractured, disenchanted with democracy and on the verge of radicalization.

Riot police fire tear gas during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, around Cairo University and Nahdet Misr Square, where they are camping in Giza, south of Cairo August 14, 2013. Egyptian security forces killed at least 30 people on Wednesday when they cleared a camp of Cairo protesters who were demanding the reinstatement of Mursi, his Muslim Brotherhood movement said. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany  (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Riot police fire tear gas at Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, near Cairo University and Nahdet Misr Square, south of Cairo, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

In branding the Brotherhood in its entirety as a terrorist organization with no prospect for reconciliation, the Sisi regime’s propaganda is turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since 2013, hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim Brotherhood members have turned to violence with any means at their disposal.

Misr is emerging as the most active and capable militant group in the Cairo area; it has claimed the majority of attacks during the revolution-anniversary period. By attacking police, the group seeks to outbid other antigovernment Islamists and capitalize on discontent fueled by increasing police brutality and enforced disappearances under Sisi’s rule.

Unlike their local competition, Misr cells have physical connections with well-armed and well-funded Islamic State wilayas, or branches, in neighboring Libya. The Sinai province, with the help of Palestinian groups in Gaza, has proven its ability to keep the Egyptian military bogged down and away from the Libyan border, Cairo and Egypt’s industrial heartland in the Nile Delta. Most important, Islamic State continues to hedge its bets that Sisi’s government will fail in its efforts to provide a positive economic and political future for Egyptian youth. This would yield a virtually bottomless pool of potential recruits for attacks at home or abroad.

In a publicized assessment, U.S. Defense Intelligence Chief Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart warned, on Feb. 8, that Islamic State could extend its operations deeper into Egypt. When matched with events taking place on the ground, Stewart’s statements should set off alarms in the offices of policymakers around the world, as well as in Cairo’s halls of power.

The international community must make every effort to roll back Islamic State’s presence in Libya. It must also shut down the Sinai arms trade, fueled by Hamas and Iran, which enables the Sinai branch to pull in crucial security resources and treasure.

Though it may seem unlikely in Egypt’s current political climate, the Sisi regime must open talks with avowed non-violent Brotherhood leaders. Together, they must declare that Islamic State’s radicalism as their shared enemy.

Granted, both sides would be forced to make considerable confidence-building gestures toward one another to work toward national stability. This would include the government offering amnesty to some imprisoned Brotherhood activists, and Brotherhood leaders agreeing to abandon ties to subversive regional actors. Sisi must also allow a political voice for what is left of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the population that it represents, as an alternative to violence.

Jordan’s government, which shares Sisi’s apprehension over the Muslim Brotherhood, recently completed the same feat. It abolished that country’s subversive Brotherhood branch while empowering its more moderate elements.

Denying Islamic State a fertile recruiting ground requires the Sisi government to curb the country’s multiplying centers of corruption, reform security forces and seriously tackle poverty through investment and education. Cairo’s allies must demonstrate to all Egyptians that they stand firmly behind Egypt in this effort.

Because ignoring Islamic State’s threat in the Middle East’s largest nation will prove as an unforgivable act.


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While agreeing that Islamist fundamentalists of various combinations continue to pose a threat to Egypt’s stability; I hasten to disagree categorically with their recommendation to resurrect any part of the Muslim Brotherhood. This organization will always strive for violent upheaval. It is a fallacy to trust those of them who profess nonviolence. They are either dissimulating or at best ousted quickly by advocates of its true philosophy.
Please read their manifesto and their leader Sayed Qutb’s writings which are still the organization’s guide and credo.
The means for suppressing the terrorist groups while cooperating in some manner with moderate Islamists is in any case already underway through positive interactions with Al Azhar- Islam’s biggest university and seat of Muslim thought and dogma; and who have control over thousands of mosques country wide.
No additional accommodation is required.
Certainly the frequency of attacks minor and major is taxing the security forces and Egypt’s population as a whole.
What is really needed is recognition by the U.S, Europe and Russia that waiting until stable countries like Egypt, Jordan and Israel are under threat by Muslim terrorists regardless of their affiliation bodes ill for the civilized world as a whole.
Egypt in particular is under severe economical pressure and MUST be supported. Because of its burgeoning population and the impact of events of recent years on its economy Egyptians are suffering.
Easing of the economic straits will encourage the public to work in harmony with the country’s security forces and army to quell these menacing waves of terrorism.
This in turn will help in the destruction of Islamists terrorists worldwide.

Posted by pharoah | Report as abusive

I’ve followed Egypt quite closely for sometime and this is the first time I’ve heard of “Misr” although I have heard several of the attacks claimed by the group. At first I thought they may be mistaking Misr with Ajnad Misr due some similarities between the groups. Still I would like to see some more substantive proof that this is its own group and not just an outgrowth of Wilayat Sinai (After all that group has claimed responsibility for many of these same attacks). Finally these two analysts should do better research. The Kingdom of Jordan has no abolished the Muslim Brotherhood and the group continues to operate a political party (the Islamic Action Front) in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Posted by Layth | Report as abusive

Sisi offers nothing but perpetual misery. Anyone’s platform or agenda can find traction in this kind of mess. Maybe Egypt should start building a pyramid for Sisi. This will at least provide employment to the youth.

Posted by RanaSahib | Report as abusive