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Latest attacks show new ISIS plan – divide Egypt by killing Christians

Latest attacks show new ISIS plan – divide Egypt by killing Christians

Grief and rage flowed through Egypt’s Christian community on Monday as tear-streaked mourners buried the victims of the coordinated Palm Sunday church bombings that killed 45 people in two cities. The cabinet declared that a state of emergency was in effect. A newspaper was pulled off newsstands after it criticized the government. It was just the reaction the Islamic State wanted.
Routed from its stronghold on the coast of Libya, besieged in Iraq and wilting under intense pressure in Syria, the militant extremist group urgently needs to find a new battleground where it can start to proclaim victory again. The devastating suicide attacks on Sunday in the heart of the Middle East’s largest Christian community suggested it has found a solution: the cities of mainland Egypt.

Since December, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has signaled its intent to wage a sectarian war in Egypt by slaughtering Christians in their homes, businesses and places of worship. Several factors lie behind the vicious campaign, experts say: a desire to weaken Egypt’s authoritarian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi; a need to gain a foothold in Egypt beyond the remote Sinai deserts where jihadists have been battling the army for years; and a desire to foment a vicious sectarian conflict that would tear at Egypt’s delicate social fabric and destabilize the state.

“There’s a significant propaganda factor to this,” said Mokhtar Awad, a militancy expert at George Washington University. “ISIS wants to show that it can attack one of the Arab world’s most populous countries.”

Few believe it can succeed. The sheer demographics of Egypt mitigate any Iraq-type success, in which the Islamic State fed off deep tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. Christians make up just 10 percent of Egypt’s people, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, and despite deep-rooted prejudices, there is no popular support for a bloody pogrom.

Yet for now, unless the Egyptian government can bridge its wide security gaps, Egypt’s Christians seem likely to bear the brunt of the Islamic State’s ambitions — and the fight could have broader consequences for civil liberties and political freedoms in a country where both are already in short supply.

A line of wooden coffins borne by Boy Scouts, and marked with the word “martyr,” filed through the doors of an ancient monastery on the outskirts of Alexandria on Monday. A mournful drumbeat accompanied the procession. The coffins held the remains of some of the 17 people killed on Sunday in a blast at the gates of St. Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt. It was perhaps the most ambitious of the two attacks because the Coptic patriarch, Tawadros II, had been inside the church at the time.

The scene also stepped up pressure on Mr. Sisi, who counts Christian leaders among his staunchest allies.

His response, the imposition of a three-month state of emergency, was met with a national shrug. Egyptians have lived under a state of emergency for 44 of the past 50 years, and Mr. Sisi already has vast powers that have led to the imprisonment of his rivals, mass trials and unfettered surveillance of enemies.

This state of emergency, due to be approved by the rubber-stamp Parliament on Tuesday, will probably entrench his autocratic tendencies. Under the emergency law, suspected terrorists will be channeled through special courts with a low evidence threshold and no appeals process, and which operate entirely under Mr. Sisi’s control.

Source: /NY Times