Islamists Threaten to Disrupt Egyptian Presidential Elections
Islamists have been attempting to disrupt the Egyptian political scene for decades — often by infiltrating the political process or disrupting it through systematic negative propaganda and violence. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s 2013 ouster from power, Islamists’ despair in the political process has only translated into threats and violence to impede the process in Egypt — especially during the upcoming presidential elections.
Egypt is scheduled to hold a presidential election on March 26-28. Incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is heavily favored to survive a challenge by Al Ghad liberal party leader Moussa Mostafa Moussa, though concerns about the fairness of the election have been raised.
Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for the boycott of elections, but their affiliated terrorist groups Hasm and Liwa Al Thawra (Revolution Brigade) — which were officially designated as terrorist groups by the United States on January 31 — are still operating to disrupt the elections process. Egyptian police forces recently arrested 14 and killed three Hasm members in what they claimed was a pre-emptive operation.
At the same time, ISIS has vowed to attack voters and polling stations across the country.
Elections mark “the greatest day of polytheism in the land of Egypt,” said a February 11 ISIS recording, titled “Guardians of Al Sharia.” “These days, Egypt’s tyrants are preparing for their day of polytheism, election day. So ruin their day of polytheism,” said an ISIS terrorist identified as Mohamed Al Masry.
“Spill their blood, and start with the heads of unbelief among them. We hereby warn the Muslim public in Egypt and Sinai during these polytheist days not to come near the polling stations and the courts, and to [avoid large] gatherings, for they are a target for us. We will go forth on this path, Allah willing … to shatter every idol and remove every tyrant.”
The ISIS member added a special threat to Christians: “And it is worth mentioning in these days that the mujahideen (jihadists) in all regions of Egypt aim to escalate their attacks against the apostates, belligerent Christians.”
Al Masry also called upon non-Islamists, whom he called “monotheist brothers,” to join in the violence: “Kill whoever you can among the soldiers of the apostate Al-Sisi or belligerent Christians, if you are sincere in your support and love for the truth.”
Similarly, Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahari has called on Muslims to rise against what he labeled as the tyrannical regime in Egypt during the elections. “I call on everyone … to work to uproot this apostate, criminal and corrupt regime, and to [wage] jihad with weapons, money, word and actions, raids and ambushes, strikes and protests,.” The Al Qaeda leader remains focused on establishing a foothold in Sinai where ISIS-affiliated groups such as Ansar Beit Al Maqdis already have gained followers. Al Qaeda’s new Sinai affiliate, Minbar Sinai, is waging a social media war against ISIS’s Wilayat Sinai, accusing it of cowardice.
Attack on the Muslim Brotherhood
Egyptian authorities arrestedAbdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in Cairo on February 8, for allegedly plotting to support terrorist acts with the Muslim Brotherhood branch in United Kingdom.
The Egyptian government says that a search of his home uncovered documents with Muslim Brotherhood instructions for inciting citizens against the Egyptian government during elections ,and spreading rumors aimed to create instability and pave the way for the Brotherhood to re-emerge as political force.
Aboul Fotouh is a former Muslim Brotherhood member and a co-founder of the Gamaa Islamiya in Egypt in the 1970s. Gamma Islamiya was responsible for past major terrorist operations, including the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Al Sadat, and reportedly had ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Aboul Fotouh left the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2009 and formed his own Islamist party “Strong Egypt,” which attracted a handful of liberal and leftist activists through a platform emphasizing social justice. Aboul Fotouh enjoyed an image of a unifying leader that encouraged him to run for president in 2012, when he lost to his former Brotherhood colleague Mohamed Morsi. Yet despite formally leaving the Brotherhood, many claim that he remains a staunch believer of the group’s rhetoric and has maintained ties with its leaders.
Aboul Fotouh initially gained his popularity among Islamists due to his open rejection of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. He joined the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, and had photos taken with them during his stay there. He later claimed that he was there for humanitarian aid purposes.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian army launched its largest counter-terrorist operation in years on February 9, involving 60,000 troops and 10,000 police officers. The ongoing operation has killed 71 reported terrorists and caused the arrests of another 1,852 people, though many were released after being cleared of all charges. The military claims it has destroyed 158 alleged terrorist sites along with 1,282 hideouts and stores.
Though Islamist groups have been weakened since Sisi’s authoritarian crackdown that began in 2013, their statements, combined with recent investigations, make it clear that they want to continue to disrupt Egypt’s political process. While their methods may vary, their vision leads to restoring power to Islamists who seek a theocratic caliphate on the ruins of the countries they attempt to infiltrate, since they deem democracy an act of apostasy.
Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counter-terrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC.