Monday, July 25, 2005

Who were the targets of the Sharm el Sheikh attacks?

At first glance, the Sharm el Sheikh attacks early Saturday morning in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el Sheikh appeared to be foreign tourists. The attacks, near simultaneous blasts by car bombs, have all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack.

But were the attacks against western interests in Egypt, or were they against the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubark?

The timing of the attacks indicates that they may very well have been aimed against Egypt and not the west.

It has only been a few weeks since Egypt’s ambassador to Iraq was kidnapped and murdered by Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq. The terrorists at the time referred to the Mubarak government as an apostate government, repeating similar accusations made by both Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri in recent months. Both Bin Laden and Zawahiri have threatened Egypt’s government on numerous occasions for Egypt’s refusal to institute full Islamic law, and for its cooperation with the United States.

The attacks occurred in the early morning hours, local time, on Saturday, July 23.

Fifty-three years ago, in the early morning hours of July 23, 1952, a group of Egyptian army officers known as the “Free Officers”, under the direction of Gen. Mohamed Naguib, staged a coup to overthrow Egyptian King Farouk. (Two of the better known members of the Free Officers were Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat.) Three days later, on July 26, King Farouk abdicated and sailed into exile from Alexandria.

Thus July 23rd is the Egyptian equivalent of America’s July 4th holiday. Governmental offices and most private businesses are closed. Many Egyptians head for the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

Most of the casualties of Saturday morning’s attack in Sinai were Egyptians; the attack in the market was almost certainly directed at local citizens instead of tourists.

Although it is certainly possible that the timing of the attacks in Sharm el Sheikh was simply a coincidence, it must also be considered that the attackers were attempting to make a strong political statement.

The Free Officers Revolution marked the end of the monarchy in Egypt, and ushered in nearly two decades of Pan Arab nationalism under Gamal Abdul Nasser. Egypt broke many of its ties with the US and Britain, and instead forged a military alliance with the Soviet Union that lasted for nearly two decades, until reversed by Abdul Nasser’s successor and fellow Free Officer Anwar Sadat..

In much the same way, the Islamists want to force a new break between Egypt and the west. They want Islam to become the dominant power in Cairo.

This is not surprising given the history of Al Qaeda. Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, Al Qaeda second in command, is an Egyptian. He was jailed in Egypt after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for his role in Sadat’s murder, and was subsequently released. From Egypt he made his way eventually to Afghanistan, and as they say, the rest is history.

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