By Amr Khalifa
Imagine the Prosecutor General of France in a motorcade near the Place de Montmartre. Now imagine a suicide car bomb intercepting that motorcade and killing him. Today Egypt doesn’t have to imagine.
On an otherwise normal sunny Ramadan day, Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s Prosecutor General, was assassinated thereby delivering a burgeoning insurgency’s biggest blow yet. If ever the death of a man was a harbinger of more blood and instability to a nation this is such a case. An insurgency that has been unrelenting, as it is bloody, in Sinai for nearly two years – since Mohamed Morsi was toppled by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi – has arrived via car in the heart of Cairo.
Cairo, we have a problem.
The details are deeply troubling to anyone looking for a stable Egypt, according to El Watan newspaper, which is closely connected to Egypt’s security apparatus. At approximately 9.30am local Cairo time, a motorcade composed of two motorbikes and one security car preceding the PG vehicle, and another following it were struck by a mobile suicide car bomb no more than 200 meters from the PG’s residence in the Nozha area of Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb. The explosion was so large it is confirmed to have damaged or destroyed ten cars in the explosion’s radius. As is often the case with such major attacks, there are more questions than answers.
Initially, within one hour after the attack, a group named Popular Resistance in Giza claimed responsibility on its Facebook page, only to withdraw the assertion on Twitter later, while saying it has no Facebook page. There are also question marks around the car that carried out the high profile assassination. El Watan indicates the suicide car bomb was mobile on a side street and moved in the direction of the motorcade causing the massive explosion. But the Washington Post tells a different tale, per Egyptian security sources: the car was remotely detonated.
Regardless of specifics, to say that the highly visible assassination is troubling to the Al-Sisi administration would be a gross understatement. To begin with, a senior Egyptian is killed hundreds of meters from his residence with a car bomb which, at this time, appears to have accurately targeted Barakat with pin point precision. Not only did the car bomb target the correct car but it also struck the correct side of the car to cause maximum damage ‘and ripped apart the car carrying the 65 year-old Barakat’.
In a sign of systematic failure of Egyptian security or a possible penetration by Egyptian militants of the upper echelons of security, the last two years have seen similarly large attacks both succeed and fail. On Christmas Eve 2013 a major explosion rocked the Daqhleya Governate’s security directorate, at a time when a major meeting was taking place. The ability of the car bomb to get so close to the building at such a critical moment, with much local security leadership present, naturally drew suspicion. In fact, there was much talk of militant circumvention of security secrecy and organisational details and local press reported, allegedly, that members of the Muslim Brotherhood within the police force had passed along crucial information to the perpetrators.
As early as two months after the 2013 coup that unseated Mohamed Morsi, there was an eerily similar assassination attempt of former interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim when a car missed his motorcade near his home by mere seconds. Much more recently, a symbolically more devastating blow was delivered to the Egyptian judiciary, consistently under fire for highly politicised death sentences including one for ex-president Morsi, when three judges were gunned down on a Sinai highway. There was little that was mistakable about the vicious attack as it occurred mere hours after the death sentence was rendered against Morsi. Despite much repudiation by the west of these mass death sentences the Egyptian legal community, led by men such as Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Zind; Nagy Shehata, the judge who rendered the most death sentences in Egyptian history; and Barakat who officially ordered the beginning of the Rabaa massacre, continues to execute the political will of Al-Sisi.
Even when Wilayat Sinai (“Sinai State”, an ISIS affiliated militant group chiefly working in Sinai) issued a video calling for the further killing of Egyptian judges, just yesterday, security measures still failed, amateurishly, to stop the deadly attack. Somehow, someway, this highly important Prosecutor General lies dead in a morgue because of an abject failure of Egyptian security forces or, worse yet, possible complicity or penetration by militants. In such matters there can be no definitive statements but the facts of previous attacks speak, at the very least, of a monumental dereliction of duty. In an environment where checks and balances, and justice are lacking no analyst should be surprised of the current dynamics of terrorism plaguing Egypt.
In exactly 24 hours, the second anniversary of the 30 June coup will be upon us and all the security precautions in the universe will not circumvent both a severe crackdown by a regime under fire and further attacks by militants smelling blood. But the matter at hand does not begin and end with guns and bombs from either side. At the core of the matter is a dynamic of action and reaction. One cannot expect stability in a nation that sees no justice, delivers none and hears not the voices of minorities, both political and social. Former interim Egyptian vice president Mohamed ElBaradei succinctly and presciently put it on Twitter, only 48 hours ago after the Tunisia attack that left 39 dead. ‘’Terrorism thriving and hand wringing continues. Root causes: injustice, oppression, marginalisation ignored’’.
But the Egyptian regime continues to eschew this rational dissection and instead insists on blaming all ills and crimes on the Muslim Brotherhood even when the terrorist signs point in another direction. Mere hours after Monday’s attack the official State Information Service (SIS) left no doubt who the regime will go after for the assassination of the Prosecutor General. “The Muslim Brotherhood group on Monday morning killed the chief prosecutor while on his way to his office.” Even if SIS had the combined investigative powers of the CIA, the FBI, the FSB and the Mossad it is highly unlikely that SIS could reasonably make such an assertion with such speed based on anything other than mere propaganda. But such an official position tells a dark tale of a state refuses to deal in facts on the ground but insists on tightening a security noose around a political adversary’s neck.
It is precisely this kind of strategic stubbornness which is more a national security risk to Egypt than any kind of terror attack. Rather than focusing on persecuting three Egyptians for making a sexually provocative music video, in record time, Egypt needs to focus its efforts on civilian justice for civilians and a laser-like insistence on necessity of an independent judiciary as a starting point.
Victims of terror, like Hisham Barakat, will only continue to multiply unless Cairo adopts a reasoned approach to the resolution of the root causes of the insurgency plaguing the nation.
Cairo, we have a problem.
In Al-Sisi’s Egypt there are two ghosts: stability and justice.
Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator recently published by Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah, the Tahrir Institute, and Arab Media Society. You can follow him on Twitter @cairo67unedited