Updated: April 12, 2017 12:07:37 am
The December 11, 2016 strike — when a blast orchestrated by the Islamic State (IS) hit a Coptic cathedral in Cairo, killing 28 — should have been a warning. But apparently, nothing prepared Egyptian intelligence for the bombings that tore through Coptic churches on holy Palm Sunday, the first blast at Tanta, in the Nile Delta, killing 28, the second in Alexandria leaving 17 dead. Scores were also injured in the bombings claimed again by IS.
Terror analysts say the attacks on Egypt’s Copts — one of the Middle East’s most ancient Christian sects, in Egypt since its Roman antiquity, currently comprising ten per cent of Egypt’s population — should have been foreseen. Following the deadly December attack, IS posted further threats against the Copts. The pressures on IS itself have escalated since: Western military intervention in Syria has squeezed the jihadist group into a tightening circle. Earlier, defeats in Libya and Iraq pushed IS into Syria, but now, the jihadist group aims to expand in Sunni-dominated Egypt. Here, instead of Shias, the Copts are a target. A minority that has withstood persecution, the Copts remain a visible part of Egyptian society, supporting a previous army regime targeting Islamist hardliners, then siding with President Sisi, seen as a secular leader. Given the backdrop, Sisi’s recent visit to the US, where he was pictured with President Trump, may have only sealed the Copts’ fate.
But following the attacks, the Egyptian state’s response has been quixotic. Sisi has acknowledged the need for much sharper intelligence and security. However, Egypt has also announced a three month-long emergency, which accords draconian powers, from sweeping arrests to scouring the media for dissidence — a newspaper was pulled off the stands for criticising the government — to Sisi. Many feel such an emergency is what the jihadists desired. Egypt’s earlier regimes of repression suffocated human rights groups and political opposition, but had little impact on terror outfits. Now, with Easter approaching, and Pope Francis scheduled to visit on 28-29 April, the Copts fear further collateral damage in a deadly war, being fought with blunt intelligence.
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