Egypt's Old Strategy for New Terrorism

Why It Won't Work

A man holds a cross and a Koran at the funeral of Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat in Cairo, June 30, 2015. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

On July 11, in yet another sign of an alarming increase of terrorism in mainland Egypt—that is, Egypt outside of northern Sinai—the Italian consulate in Cairo was bombed. The Islamic State (also called ISIS) allegedly claimed the attack, although the group’s involvement was not confirmed. Last month, on June 29, a car bomb ripped through the armored convoy of Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s prosecutor general. Barakat, a 65-year-old career prosecutor who was appointed in July 2013 and had served during a period of remarkable political polarization, died of wounds sustained in the blast.  

In his death, Barakat joined dozens of Egyptian state officials who have been assassinated or faced attempted assassination in the past years. On September 9, 2013, former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim narrowly escaped a similar attack when a suicide bomber targeted him as he drove to work in the Cairene suburb of Nasr City. Other assassinations have included high-ranking police, military, and judicial figures.

Egyptian security officials inspect the site of a bomb blast at the Italian Consulate in Cairo, July 11, 2015.
Egyptian security officials inspect the site of a bomb blast at the Italian Consulate in Cairo, July 11, 2015. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters
The assassinations come during a wave of terrorism in the country. Although there have been a number of spectacular attacks, most of the violence is made up of frequent and smaller-scale attacks. Based on data collected by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, on average, nearly 120 acts of terrorism have been reported per month thus far in 2015, versus around 30 per month in 2014. This increase coincides with the late 2014 emergence of smaller groups operating outside of the restive Sinai Peninsula (such as the Revolutionary Punishment and the Popular Resistance Movement). Indeed, Egypt is suffering a wave of violence unseen since the 1990s.

In this surge of violence, the judiciary is a frequent target. Sinai-based militant group Wilayat Sinai, an affiliate of ISIS, recently launched a campaign entitled "Extermination of the Judiciary." Only hours before Barakat’s assassination, the group had published a video that featured footage of a May 17 drive-by murder of three judges and a prosecutor in North Sinai. Other assassinations and attacks have been carried out by nameless actors; in the past six months,

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