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US Aid Returns to Egypt Amid Wave of Attacks

Violence has been directed at military and police personnel since former President Mohamad Morsi was ousted.

by John Beck
Apr 23 2014, 7:35pm

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Two members of the Egyptian police force were killed in separate incidents today as opponents of the military-backed government continue a wave of attacks against security forces.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Zaki died in Egypt's Giza governate just west of Cairo after a bomb placed under his car exploded and critically wounded him when he was driving home, officials told AP.

Videos posted on YouTube showed the aftermath of the bombing, as well as the discovery of a mobile phone reportedly used to trigger the bomb.

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, Lt. Ahmed Saad died during a raid on a suspected militant base, the city’s chief Police Maj. Gen. Amin Ezzedin told the state-run Middle East News Agency.

These are the latest incidents in a wave of violence directed at military and police personnel since former President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were removed by the army in June. Attacks on security forces were, at first, concentrated around Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, where a full-blown insurgency is raging, but have since spread elsewhere.

Egypt's splintered opposition is fighting for survival against the military. Read more here.

Last week, a police major was killed in another explosion in central Cairo, while earlier in the month, a police brigadier-general died during a triple bombing near Cairo University, which a group calling itself Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) claimed responsibility for.

The capital was also rocked by a series of blasts on the eve of the anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 revolution, including a massive explosion at the security directorate. Another huge bomb blast targeting Mansoura’s security directorate took place on December 24. Sinai Peninsula-based al Qaeda-wannabe group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (the Champions of Jerusalem) said it was responsible for both directorate attacks.

State figures list nearly 500 dead at the hands of armed groups since Morsi’s ouster. Most were military or police.

Issandr El Amrani, who oversees Crisis Group's North Africa Project, told VICE News that violence is likely to intensify.

“I think the situation in Cairo and the wave of attacks is likely to get worse,” he said. “The trend has generally been that the attacks are getting more frequent and more widespread geographically.”

However, he draws a distinction between well-trained and equipped Sinai-based insurgent groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the less advanced groups, which committed this month's attacks.

“It’s a different type of situation,” he says. “In Sinai we see people with military training and expertise carrying out fairly sophisticated operations, things like using improvised explosive devises against military vehicles or large explosive attacks on security buildings… The second wave of attacks we are seeing may have nothing to do with Sinai… It’s a much more amateur operation."

The military-backed government cracked down hard on the Brotherhood immediately after Morsi's ouster, designating it a terrorist organization and aggressively pursuing its leadership and members. More than a thousand of Morsi’s supporters died in clashes with security forces in the ensuing chaos, and many thousands more were arrested.

In response, the U.S. suspended some of its military aid to Egypt amid concerns over civil rights abuses. However, on Tuesday the U.S. decided that delivering 10 Apache attack helicopters to Egypt is in its own best interests. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Egyptian counterpart, Defense Minister Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhy, the good news in a phone call Tuesday, according to a readout provided by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. Kirby also reported that Hagel told Sobhy: "We believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security."

Apache helicopters buzz Tahrir in July 2013. Image via Flickr.

Washington returning military aid to the country was dependent on Egypt improving its woeful human rights record and moving towards a democratic transition. Rights abuses have, if anything, worsened, but US officials have seemingly decided that maintaining counter-terrorism links with Egyptian authorities and continuing to support the Egypt-Israeli peace accord are a higher priority. Hagel did however tell Sobhy that the U.S. was "not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition," and urged authorities to "demonstrate progress on a more inclusive transition that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians."

Amrani adds that the decision to release aid was essentially a foregone conclusion, with little to do with the situation on the ground.

“One of the pre-conditions for the release of aid to Egypt was the Obama administration certifying that it served strategic purpose,” he said. “It was always a no-brainer that they would approve that... U.S. officials see the situation in Sinai and counter insurgency operations being waged there as a priority, and something which reinforces Israeli-Egypt security cooperation.”

The Egyptian administration does appear to be enjoying renewed international support, however. Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a Middle East envoy, said in a speech today that the coup which removed Morsi from office was justified, describing the brotherhood as “systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country,” in remarks reported by AP.