by Mordechai Kedar
On Tuesday of last week the residents of the city al-Mansoura, which is in the Dakahlia section in the northern part of the delta awoke to the sound of a strong explosion that was heard 20 kilometers from the center of the city. A car loaded with dozens of kilograms of standard explosives detonated next to the building of the region's security administration, killed fourteen security people on the spot and wounded more than a hundred. The great damage caused to the surrounding buildings testified to the strength of the explosion. As of the writing of these lines, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the day before the attack a Salafi organization by the name Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) published a warning to the security organizations' people that they are actually infidels because they collaborate with a secular regime. At any rate it is clear that the attack was the work of a group of professional, well-trained jihadists with a solid intelligence and technical infrastructure.
The government of Egypt immediately raised the level of preparedness in all police stations, security centers and government institutions throughout the country to the highest level, because the jihad organizations' operational style is to create a number of attacks scheduled closely together in order to intensify the effect of fear among the population. Nevertheless, the country can clearly not give total security to its institutions without severely harming the population's freedom of movement. If it is decided to impose a nighttime curfew as was done following the revolution of January 2011, it will be at the expense of indigent street vendors who actually enjoy the late evening hours rather than a lot of customer traffic, and the government is not interested in arousing hostility among them.
Who is responsible for the attack? There are two natural candidates. One is a group of jihadists that is based in Sinai and in the past half year has absorbed severe blows from the Egyptian army, but was not eliminated. The second is any organization in Egypt, not in Sinai, that protests, according to its violent ways, Mursi's removal from the presidency. The Muslim Brotherhood movement condemned the attack. There are those who take the condemnation seriously, assuming that the movement is not interested in escalating the battle with the regime so that they will not be defined as a terror organization and exposed to punitive measures as a consequence. And there are those who believe that the condemnation is just lip service since the movement is furious about the regime removing Mursi and bringing the heads of the movement to trial on false charges, in their words.
About six months ago, on the 4th of July, 2013, the day after the army had deposed the elected president Mohamed Mursi, I published an article for this podium entitled "The Moment of Truth Draws Near". In this article I wrote:
The names of organizations such as "al-Takfir wal-Hijra" (Excommunication and Emigration) and "Al-Nagun min al-Nar" (Saved from the Inferno) fill senior officers of the Egyptian army with dread, because they know that there are enough people among the Egyptian population who identify with the radical ideas of these organizations and would set off car bombs and cause mass murder among people that they suspect of helping to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power, after they had won it legitimately in fair, democratic elections."
I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but car bombs are an acceptable means throughout the entire Middle East - from Iraq to the Atlantic Ocean, from Syria to Somalia - to express rage and resentment against the regime or against anyone who is disliked by anyone else just because he belongs to a different religion, a different community or a different ethnic or tribal group. Using a car bomb allows the attackers to transfer a large amount of explosives to a place very close to a target without arousing suspicion, and the effect that is achieved - whether in harm to people and damage to property or the influence on morale - is great. That's how it is in the Middle East, and what happened on Tuesday morning in al-Mansoura is not fundamentally different in character from what is happening all throughout the area.
The car bomb as a means of attack is not new in Egypt either: Approximately three years ago, during the night of January 1, 2011 a car bomb loaded with explosives detonated in front of a church in Alexandria and about thirty Christians leaving New Year's Eve mass were killed. However, this time the car bomb was intended not to harm Christians, but Muslims, not a religious minority but a symbol of a regime - the building of the Dakahlia region's security administration.
Since the attack, the Egyptian communications media have been mobilized for war, and since "the end justifies the means": the Islamist groups from the Muslim Brotherhood all the way up to the terror organizations in Egypt and in Sinai have been defined as the enemy, and their religion - according to government spokesmen - is not Islam because Islam does not permit the killing of Muslims. There is no one in the official Egyptian media who would try to express understanding for the attackers' motivation or try to find any sort of justification for their action against the regime. They are evil incarnate, "black terror" in Egyptian terms. The Egyptian media does not give a stage to defeatist bleeding hearts, because its people know quite well that Egypt - as a society and as a state - will succeed in standing up to Islamic radicalism only if its residents are willing - emotionally and practically - to wage an all-out war against it with the determination to triumph over it and physically destroy it.
As part of the media war against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, the sheikh of al-Azhar spoke in a radio broadcast where he repeated the judgment from about ten years previously that said that someone who blows himself up to kill others is not a martyr but a murderer whose place is eternal and everlasting Hell, and his act is not istashhad (the intention of martyrdom) but murder for which he will be judged in its full severity. Egyptian radio also quotes the religious sages of Saudi Arabia, a country that is considered the leader of the Salafi stream of Islam, supporting the approach that forbids all terror attacks, and especially suicide attacks.
The battle between the supporters of political Islam, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood and those who oppose them is a battle for all of the stakes: it is not only that they have been deposed from the presidency that they had won in fair elections, but it is also about hundreds of their supporters who have been imprisoned during demonstrations in al-Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, who were sent to roach infested prisons, where they are humiliated: they are kept in very crowded conditions, do not see the light of day, and many of them have begun a hunger strike. The regime relates to the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters as if they are terrorists, so why shouldn't they behave the way they do?
The historical background of the attack is also important: in mid January a referendum is supposed to be held in Egypt to approve the new constitution that a committee of five intellectuals has written, that is intended to replace the Islamic-leaning constitution that was adopted during Mursi's days. The explosion was intended to warn people away from standing in lines in front of voting locations so that they would not be vulnerable to terror attacks.
The Islamic groups are divided in their approach to the referendum: The Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations that support them object to the principle of participating in a referendum since participation grants the present regime and its deeds a seal of approval. They feel therefore, that Egyptians who object to it should boycott the referendum. Moreover, the Brotherhood objects to the broad authorities that the draft of the new constitution grants to the army and the president at the expense of the parliament. They object to the authority to bring civilians to a military court and the prohibition against political parties founded on a religious or ethnic basis, because they believe - and to a great extent they are correct - that this constitution will bring Egypt back to the dark days of Mubarak, thus negating the achievements of the revolution of January 25, 2011, which enabled them to take control of the parliament and the presidency. On the other hand, the Salafis, who oppose the Brotherhood, believe that there is an obligation to participate in the referendum and approve the constitution, in order to undermine the status of the Muslim Brotherhood. Each side enlists religious sages to issue edicts of religious law supporting their positions.
Nevertheless it is important to note that even within the liberal, secular public there are many who object to the constitution because of the limitations that it places on the right to demonstrate, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Recently several human rights activists - men and women - have been sentenced to prison for demonstrating against the regime and publishing articles on the Internet about things that the regime took issue with. Clearly, even if the constitution is approved and afterwards a parliament and president are elected, there will be many - liberals and Islamists alike - who will not accept the situation, and will claim that there was fraud and will act in both legal and illegal ways to destabilize the situation in the country.
In recent days two rumors have been spreading in the Egyptian street. One is that there are groups who are distributing forged versions of the drafted constitution, in order to cause the citizens to vote differently from the way that they would have voted for the true version. The second rumor is that General al-Sisi was killed in a terror attack two months ago and the regime has replaced him with a double who looks like him and sounds like him. This rumor is especially important in light of the possibility that General al-Sisi might stand as a candidate in the elections for president.
The Arab Envelope
The terror attack in al-Mansoura cannot be seen as separate from the events that are occurring throughout the Arab world: the terrible destruction and inconceivable suffering that has befallen the citizens of Syria, the mass terror attacks that occur almost daily in Iraq, the unending war between the tribes in Libya, and in recent days the war - how surprising: between the tribes - in the Republic of South Sudan. All of these events flood the communications media, and the atmosphere that is reflected from them is that "the whole world is a battlefield and all of the people are fighters".
With the critical and ever-deteriorating internal situation in Egypt, and the external, situation encumbered by multiple crises continually increasing in severity within the regional envelope, the chance that people will begin to think according to cold logic is fading. Emotions become intensified, the urge for revenge increases, and the desire for wanton, even self-destructive revenge more and more takes control of anyone who can harm others. The "Arab Spring" has eliminated some echelons of the elite who could have managed these countries and it has left their populations as victims for those with radical agendas who have no qualms about using any means to impose their will on others.
The Middle East seems like a boiling swamp of fire, blood and tears, and Israel must maintain a distance from this burning cauldron. Reality proves again that Israel is not the Middle East's problem; the problem is rather its residents and their culture.
Allah in his wisdom wrote in the Qur'an: "Allah does not change what is in people's souls, until they change what is in their souls" (Surah 13, Verse 11).
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by SallyZahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.