Egypt Tourist Bus Attack Focuses Minds on Brotherhood Cells

(Cairo) A recent bombing outside the Grand Egyptian Museum, a gigantic museum now being constructed only meters away from the Giza Pyramids Plateau, is focusing minds in Cairo on the ability of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement to use its sleeper cells in wreaking havoc on Egypt’s security and threatening the populous country’s economy.

The bombing took place on May 19 as a tourist bus, heading to the Pyramids, crossed the area. Seventeen people, including seven South African tourists and ten Egyptian citizens, were injured in the bombing which was carried out by a roadside bomb.

“The bombing carried the hallmarks of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said retired police general Mamdouh al-Kidwani. “It shows that the group continues to maintain some sleeper cells that are ready to act at any time when given orders.”

The Brotherhood, once Egypt’s most vibrant Islamist organization, received a deadly blow in July 2013 when its senior member Mohamed Morsi, who became Egypt’s president in mid-2012, was ousted in an army-backed popular uprising in mid-2013.

However, angry Brotherhood followers staged numerous attacks on state facilities and the churches, burning down dozens of churches, after accusing Egypt’s Christian minority (around 12% of the population) of backing the anti-Morsi uprising.

Brotherhood militias also killed a large number of policemen and staged numerous bomb attacks, some of which claimed the lives of ordinary people on the streets.

This violence instigated a heavy-handed crackdown on the group, its party and its followers. The Muslim Brotherhood’s party was disbanded, its funds were confiscated, and a large number of its members, sympathizers and leaders were put in jail, including Morsi himself and the group’s supreme guide.

This crackdown reduced the operational capabilities of the Brotherhood to almost nothing, which is why security is returning to the streets in Egypt.

Nevertheless, the latest bus bomb attack attests to a possible resurgence of Brotherhood violence, security analysts said.

The bombing comes at a time the tourism sector is picking up after almost two years of recession. The recession was induced by the bombing over Sinai of a Russian passenger plane in late 2016, which left all 224 passengers and crew members dead.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The same bombing precipitated a large number of countries to suspend flights to Sharm el-sheikh, Egypt’s prime Red Sea resort which enjoys huge international fame.

The Brotherhood wants to bring the tourism sector back to square one, security analysts said.

“Striking at the tourism sector will cause major harm to the national economy,” said independent security analyst Mohamed Nour Eddine. “This sector is always the main victim of terrorist attacks.”

The tourism sector gives Egypt a sizeable portion of its foreign currency revenues and employs close to five million Egyptians.

The Brotherhood last struck the tourism sector in December 2018 when some of its members planted a bomb on the side of a road in Giza province.

The bomb was remotely detonated the minute a tourist bus travelling to the Pyramids passed. Three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide were killed and 12 other people were injured as a result.

Despite efforts made by the security establishment to stave off the Brotherhood danger and prevent the Islamist organization from staging further attacks, this establishment faces challenges, security analysts said. One of the challenges is that security agencies do not have enough information about the Brotherhood sleeper cells or their members because most of the members of these cells do not have a criminal or a terrorist record.

The other challenge, security analysts added, is that few civilians are ready to share information about Brotherhood operatives for fear of retaliation from the terrorist organization.

“Most importantly still is that the Brotherhood has its regional state sponsors,” Kidwani said. “These state sponsors keep providing the organization with financial and logistical support with the aim of undermining security in Egypt.”