Egypt raises state of alert, wary of Qatar crisis backlash
With Doha’s back against the wall, Egypt is concerned about possible repercussions.
On highest alert. A member of the special police forces stands guard in Cairo. (Reuters)
2017/06/18 Issue: 111 Page: 11
The Arab Weekly
Cairo- Egypt is preparing for backlash over its decision to cut diplomatic ties with Doha in response to Qatar’s alleged financing of terrorist groups, raising the state of alert and beefing up security across the country.
“There are expectations that the pace of terrorist operations will accelerate after Egypt cut its diplomatic ties with Qatar,” said Mohamed Bilal, former Egyptian Army deputy chief of staff.
Cairo accused Doha of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which it has designated as a terrorist organisation. Several Brotherhood figures, including many convicted in absentia of terrorism-related offences, sought refuge in Qatar.
“Qatar is directly involved in funding terrorist operations in Egypt and I think the authorities will come up with proof of this in the coming days,” said Bilal, who was commander of Egypt’s forces during the 1991 Gulf War.
A senior security official informed Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency of government fears that unspecified terrorist groups could seek to use “regional developments” to launch attacks in Egypt.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry raised the level of alert around the country, including beefing up security near likely targets, such as police stations, banks, embassies and places of worship, especially churches and monasteries.
The ministry said there would be increased security at railway and bus stations, as well as at the Suez Canal, Nile High Dam, seaports and border crossings.
Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority has been the target of several terrorist operations in recent months. Islamic State (ISIS) militants on May 26 killed 29 Christian pilgrims travelling to a monastery in Egypt’s central Minya province.
“Regional developments make it necessary for security agencies to take measures to prevent expected retaliation,” said retired police General Mamdouh al-Kidawni. “Egypt is hitting Qatar hard by divulging its links to terrorism in a number of countries but Doha will not stand idly by.”
Although Egypt followed Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in severing diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, Cairo had consistently complained about Doha’s links to terrorism and biased coverage of Egyptian affairs by Qatari-backed media.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain issued a list of 59 people and 12 entities believed to be tied to terrorism financing. The list included 26 Egyptian nationals, including prominent figures such as Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Islamist militant figure Tarek al-Zumar.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made his position on Qatar an essential topic of discussion in his meetings and conversations with world leaders. During a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump, both leaders stressed the importance of combating terrorism financing. During a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany on June 12, Sisi highlighted the need for greater international resolve to confront countries that fund and support terrorism.
Gehad Abdel Malik, professor of political science at Egypt’s Helwan University, said Cairo likely wanted to take stronger action against Doha for years but had been stymied by external pressures.
“Egypt’s chance to take this action came only when Gulf states reached the same conclusion, namely that Qatar had turned into a destabilising factor in the region,” he said.
With Doha facing increasing regional isolation and its back against the wall, however, Egypt is concerned about possible repercussions.
“Security agencies now have the additional challenge of ensuring that their plans can cope with this threat,” Bilal said. “The problem is that you never know where the terrorists will hit next.”