Fears of insurgency are spreading in Egypt. After Thursday’s failed car-bomb assassination attempt on him, the country’s foreign minister Mohamed Ibrahim ominously predicted that the attack was “not the end but the beginning.” That vague warning echoes a growing fear that Egypt is once again heading towards a protracted fight against Islamic insurgency forces. The FT reports:
There are suggestions that the state is mobilising against the Islamists far more quickly than it did in the 1990s. Supporters of Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood claim 8,000 opponents of the coup have been detained in the last two months, including second-tier leaders of various Islamist groups, leaving followers to decide on their own whether to take up arms. […]Insurgent groups also appear to be ramping up their activities faster than in the 1990s. Weapons have been pouring into Egypt from Libya, and advances in communications technologies and the spread of global jihadi ideology make joining and engaging in armed struggle easier.
The big question in Egypt is whether the military government can deliver enough economic growth and day-to-day security to govern stably. The big worry is that continuing economic failure plus violent incidents will have the same corrosive effect on public backing for the new government that the insecurity and economic problems of the Morsi era had on the Muslim Brotherhood government. Egypt is still in the same old trap.Tourists and foreign investors are spooked and will stay away while the country is insecure, but without tourists and investments it is very hard to get the economic growth that could stabilize the political and security situations. If so, the military will have to govern ugly—that is, since it can’t make things better by making everyone happy it will have to do its best to crush its opponents, restoring stability through repression rather than through enlightened compromise and wise rule. Police states, generally speaking, are safe places to travel in.The Muslim Brotherhood leadership is almost certainly not in effective control of the younger, more frustrated members of the Islamist wing of Egyptian politics. Things can still get worse. And it’s worth remembering—even as Syria boils, Iraq writhes and Lebanon seethes—that at the end of the day Egypt is the anchor of the Arab Middle East. The story is far from over.
[Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi gather in Cairo’s Abbassiya neighborhood on August 16, 2013. Photo courtesy Getty Images.]