The two suicide bombings in Egypt on April 26 were the latest of a series of armed attacks in the country over the last two years. The coincide with demonstrations by thousands of Egyptians in central Cairo to protest against the prosecution of two senior judges who are known for their public criticism of the government's control of the judiciary. The persecution of the judges follows Mubarak's loud promises to curb ‘terrorism' and to establish liberal and democratic rule. The persecution and demonstrations show that the president's promises have fallen on deaf ears, yet his response to both has been the familiar one: a firm undertaking to bring the ‘terrorists' to justice and the persecution of those – such as the judges – who dare to criticise the government or public bodies for their policies.
The latest defiance of Mubarak's authority came when two suicide-bombers blew themselves up close to a base in Northern Sinai where multinational forces monitor Egypt's border withIsrael. A spokesman for the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), led by the US, which supervises the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, said that the first of the two bombers appeared to target two of its vehicles, but no member of MFO was hurt. The second man blew himself up near a police station and no one was hurt. In fact, the only casualties were the bombers themselves, but this is unlikely to prevent further bombings in this area, as Egypt's treaty with Israel and its support for pro-Israeli US policies are very unpopular.
The double attack on the MFO was the second since last August, when a roadside bomb wounded two monitors. Two days before the suicide-bomb attacks, explosions killed at least 24 people and injured 80 others, most of them Egyptians, at the beach resort of Dajab, which is traditionally a popular destination for low-budget European and Israeli tourists. Security forces detained people for questioning, but experience suggests that many more could be arrested to show that they are taking the matter seriously.
The explosions were similar to two previous attacks on the same Red Sea coast, al-Taba in October 2004 and Sharm al-Sheikh last July, which were both blamed on local bedouins. The attack at Taba brought to an end a seven-year lull in ‘extremist violence' in the country, and caught the country off guard. In response, the authorities rounded up thousands of people, who as usual were detained without charge and tortured. Despite the huge number of people detained, the government has given little information, saying only that a group of "Bedouin terrorists" are responsible. According to analysts, the regime is anxious to avoid creating the impression that al-Qa'ida is involved because any impression that it has a hand in the attacks will frighten away the foreign tourists visiting the Red Sea resorts. Tourism earns Egypt's biggest foreign currency receipts, and an end to or serious reduction of that income will put Egypt– and therefore its government – into even more serious economic and political difficulties.
Whatever the explanation of the continuing attacks, it is public knowledge that a large, and growing, number of Egyptians – whether secular or Islamic activists – are openly opposed to Mubarak's autocratic and corrupt rule. Those opposed include a large number of judges who publicly demand the establishment of an independent judiciary, free of control by the ministry of justice. Many Egyptians are angry at Mubarak's subservience to the US and Israel, feeling humiliated that their country, which in their eyes should be leading not only the Arab world but the Muslim world, is kow-towing to an avowedly ideological and religious enemy. That anger is reflected in the opposition to the US-led war in Iraq on "terrorism", and in dramatic gains by the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen in the recent parliamentary elections despite the authorities' intervention, without which the Ikhwan would have won.
The US government is not helping Mubarak by openly backing him, nor by publishing its role in "freeing Iraq" and fighting ‘terrorists'. Bush, for instance, loudly condemned the "terrorists" responsible for the latest attacks, in terms very similar to those used by the Egyptian president and prime minister. The simultaneous visit to Iraq by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and secretary of state Condoleeza Rice also angered many Muslims, including Egyptians, and may lead to further acts of violence in Egypt. Many analysts are in no doubt that attacks in theSinai peninsula are linked to the war in Iraq.
Mubarak has tried to defuse the anger by promising that he will amend the constitution to create democratic rule, saying specifically that he will not be succeeded by his son Jamal after all, because the amendments he is proposing will specifically prevent that. He has also said that he will amend the security laws that give him the power to use dictatorial and repressive measures at will. However, he added that the security law will not be amended before the new law against terrorism is passed.
Not surprisingly, few Egyptians believe their president, and many of them are opposed to his rule and willing to fight it. They are no terrorists for doing so, whatever Mubarak says to the contrary.