Egyptian Minister of Interior Muhammad Ibrahim has just survived an assassination attempt by car bomb near his home in Nasr City. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but government security officials are already decrying “a new wave of terrorism.” This move, unfortunately, affirms their weeks of lambasting the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists and breaking up their mostly peaceful sit-in protests of the military coup that removed ex-President Muhammad Mursi with extreme violence.
The Minister of Interior, as the head of the secret and riot police services that represent the most repressive aspect of the Egyptian security state, were targets of repeated assassination attempts in the 1980s and 1990s (Hassan Abu Basha and Muhammad Nawabi Ismail in 1987, Abdel Halim Moussa in 1990, Hassan Al-Alfi in 1993), by radical Islamist groups Al-Jihad and Al-Gamaʿa Al-Islamiyya. The latter, a much larger group that comes from socioeconomically depressed Upper Egypt, employed the idea of jihad to justify attacking a state it labelled non-Muslim because of President Sadat’s settlement of peace with Israel at Camp David in 1979. However, the political and economic alienation of these groups under Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was the principal cause of their turn to violent measures.
The historical parallels go further back. I find it ironic that today’s botched bombing happened on Mustafa al-Nahhas street. Al-Nahhas, the successor to nationalist Saʿad Zaghlul who led the Wafd Party from 1927 until the Free Officer coup in 1952, was himself the target of four assassination attempts in 1937, 1945 and 1948. The Muslim Brotherhood was probably responsible for the later attempts; the group was unhappy with Al-Nahhas’ cooperation with the British colonial hegemony as prime minister during the Second World War and his equivocation on the issue of Palestine. This brief period (1945-1954) during which the relatively young Brotherhood had a terrorist wing was also one of electoral political exclusion — Brotherhood leader Hassan al-Banna had run for parliament in 1945 but lost because of vote manipulation of the wealthy landowners’ parties that dominated the system.
The Brotherhood of the 1940s was a much different organization than it is today, after years of electoral political participation under Mubarak and its 12-18 months of electoral majority until July, and it is my guess the perpetrators of today’s attack were independent of the group. But the parallels I noted above are worrisome. Groups that the dominant power include in the political system (however it is construed) generally moderate their tactics and participate in pluralistic activities like elections, debate, political publishing, etc. Those groups systematically and unfairly excluded from the political process have fewer options for protest. They radicalize and turn to violence.
Dead ministers aside, I fear this is precisely what the military junta ruling Egypt wants right now to further delegitimize their Islamist enemies.