EGYPT GRAPPLES WITH POLITICAL INSTABILITY AND JIHADISM AFTER PROBABLE TERRORIST ATTACK

 

The Terror Attack That Bored America: Noah Rothman, Commentary, Nov. 6, 2015— Increasingly, it appears that the worst terrorist attack on an aircraft since September 11th took place on October 31 over the skies of Egypt.

Allies of Egypt's Leader Fear He's in Jihadis' Crosshairs: Eli Lake & Josh Rogin, Bloomberg, Nov. 6, 2015 — Since 2013, Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has kept a tight grip on his country.

A Plague on Egypt’s Tourism: Walter Russell Mead, American Interest, Nov. 6, 2015 — Bomb or no bomb?

Veterans Look Back at World War II Service: Paul Lungen, Canadian Jewish News, Nov. 8, 2015— Morris Polansky was a teenage farm boy living in Oxbow, Sask. when he made his way to Winnipeg to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces.

 

On Topic Links

 

ISIS’s ‘Most Potent’ Crew Is Now in Sinai—and Says It Bombed Russia’s Jet: Nancy A. Youssef & Shane Harris, Daily Beast, Nov. 5, 2015

In Egypt, Angry Talk of Western Conspiracy Over Plane Crash: Maram Mazen, Washington Post, Nov. 10, 2015

Egypt’s Brazen Crackdown on Critics: New York Times, Nov. 9, 2015

Inculcating Islamist Ideals in Egypt: Yohanan Manor, Middle East Quarterly, Fall, 2015

                                                                             

                  

THE TERROR ATTACK THAT BORED AMERICA

Noah Rothman                            

Commentary, Nov. 6, 2015

 

Increasingly, it appears that the worst terrorist attack on an aircraft since September 11th took place on October 31 over the skies of Egypt. Evidence has begun to mount that the crash of a Russian jet in the Sinai desert, which resulted in the death of all 224 aboard, was the result of an explosion caused by a terrorist device. In the United States, this earth-shattering event has been greeted with a strange mix of confusion and ennui.

 

According to the European investigators who have been scrambling to identify what happened to Metrojet Flight 9268, the cockpit flight recorder audio reveals it was not a mechanical failure that brought the plane down. This revelation followed an unequivocal statement on Thursday from British Prime Minister David Cameron who, while hosting a visit with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, said that “it looks increasingly likely” that a “terrorist bomb” took down the aircraft. American President Barack Obama confirmed that U.S. intelligence was taking that possibility “very seriously.” “There’s a possibility that there was a bomb on board,” Obama averred.

 

What followed these comments could only be described as chaos. A number of Western airlines halted flights over Sinai airspace, and Russia ceased all flights to the entire country of Egypt. Tens of thousands of European tourists, all racing to the transportation hub of Sharm el Sheikh, found they had been stranded. The United States Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that a variety of new security measures would be applied to commercial flights departing from certain airports in the Middle East and transiting into America.

 

An Egyptian official told ABC News that local authorities believe that a functional explosive device having been somehow smuggled aboard that plane is the “most plausible scenario” and that technical malfunctions are now “at the bottom of their list of possible scenarios.”

 

If confirmed, this would represent the most successful terrorist attack on airplanes since 9/11. Al-Qaeda had hoped to duplicate its 2001 coup and sought on multiple occasions to attack aircraft. Those plots ranged from the hapless Richard “shoe bomber” Reid’s foiled plot, to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” who unsuccessfully tried to destroy Northwestern Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009, to the more serious plot to blow up five European airplanes over the Atlantic around the Christmas holiday last year. In 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency worked with foreign partners to disrupted a Yemen-based al-Qaeda plot to smuggle an experimental device that was designed to evade airport detection methods aboard a U.S.-bound flight. All of these operations failed.

 

Now, it seems as though a terrorist plot to get a bomb on board a European aircraft has finally succeeded. It was not, however, al-Qaeda that succeeded in this feat; it was the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. U.S. officials who spoke to CNN reporter Barbara Starr on condition of anonymity told her on Wednesday that the explosion aboard this plan was most likely caused by a bomb planted “by ISIS or an affiliate.” “The signs pointing to ISIS, another U.S. official said, are partially based on monitoring of internal messages of the terrorist group,” the report read. “Those messages are separate from public ISIS claims of responsibility, that official said.”

 

This should be generating more than a passing headline or two in the United States. Recall that some American cable networks devoted wall-to-wall coverage to a missing aircraft last year, even entertaining the possibility that a gravitational anomaly was responsible for its disappearance. Bizarrely, the very real prospect of renewed and unpreventable terrorist actors targeting and destroying passenger aircraft has not merited nearly the coverage it deserves.

 

One of the most troubling theories (due to its likelihood) is not that a special form of explosive that could evade detection methods was smuggled aboard this aircraft, but that an agent loyal to Islamist terrorists working with airport security facilitated this attack. The Metrojet attack could, as some have suggested, result in Russia stepping up its military campaign in Syria and beginning to target ISIS in earnest. Thus far, Russian aircraft have largely focused on striking anti-Assad, U.S.-aligned rebels and CIA weapons depots. It will almost certainly mean stepped up airport security in the West.

 

Given the likely far-reaching effects of this successful terrorist attack, the muted reaction to it in the United States is incongruous. It is the surest sign yet that Americans have again succumbed to complacency and a “September 10th” mentality.

                                                                       

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ALLIES OF EGYPT'S LEADER FEAR HE'S IN JIHADIS' CROSSHAIRS

Eli Lake & Josh Rogin                                                 

Bloomberg, Nov. 6, 2015

 

Since 2013, Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has kept a tight grip on his country. He has jailed, killed and exiled his Islamist opposition. Nonetheless, Israeli officials are said to worry whether he can hold on to power. Speaking Thursday to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Vin Weber, a former Republican member of Congress and the co-chairman of the think tank's task force on Egypt policy, said Israeli officials and others with whom he had spoken are concerned el-Sisi's government will fall.

 

"We encountered a lot of people in Israel and elsewhere that don't think that he is going to survive his term," Weber said. Israeli government representatives declined to comment for this column. One Israeli official disputed Weber's assessment but did not elaborate. Weber's task force met with senior Israeli security officials and diplomats, according to the group's report released this week. "He is under constant death threats," Weber said. "Many people said we're not sure where he sleeps every night. And I think there is that question mark in the minds of the Israelis about whether or not the government can succeed."

 

Questions about el-Sisi's ability to stay in power and run Egypt are newly urgent this week. The U.S. and U.K. governments say there is evidence that the Islamic State placed a bomb aboard a Russian commercial jet that exploded this week over the Sinai. It took off from the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. On Friday, Russia canceled all flights to Egypt.

 

The group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in November 2014, initially claimed credit for destroying the Russian Metrojet plane. Despite a new Egyptian military campaign this summer against insurgents in the Sinai, Islamic State-linked jihadis there launched a wave of terror, killing scores of Egyptian soldiers and assassinating the country's chief prosecutor. Last year el-Sisi himself acknowledged there had been two attempts on his life in 2013. 

 

Greg Craig, a former top lawyer in the Obama White House and the co-chairman of the institute's task force, said Egypt's military was working more closely with the Israeli intelligence community — particularly in Sinai — than they ever had before. Nonetheless, Craig said one Israeli military analyst gave the Egyptian campaign in the Sinai very low marks. "We did spend some time with Israeli national security folks. One of the smartest persons I've ever met in terms of analytical capacity was talking about the Egyptian proclivity to do all the wrong things when it comes to counter-insurgency," Craig said. "If you had a list of boxes you checked of things not to do, the Egyptian military has checked every one of those boxes."

 

The Israeli government has enjoyed unprecedented cooperation with el-Sisi's government, particularly in the Sinai where Egypt has worked to destroy the smuggling tunnels operated by Hamas in Gaza. If el-Sisi's government fell and Islamists took over, Israel would face a hostile neighbor on its southern border. 

 

Coups and assassinations are common in recent Egyptian history. El-Sisi seized power in 2013 as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Jihadis in 1981 murdered Anwar al-Sadat, the Egyptian president who signed a peace treaty with Israel, at a military parade in Cairo. Islamists tried to kill Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, in 1995 on a state visit to Ethiopia.

 

Like past Egyptian leaders, el-Sisi also faces threats from within the military. In August an Egyptian court sentenced 26 Egyptian military officers for plotting a coup against the Egyptian president. A retired Egyptian general, Sameh Seif Elyazal, told Foreign Policy last year that 2 million to 3 million Egyptians hate el-Sisi: "Everybody knows that he is a target."

 

Other U.S. officials and outside experts have told us they too worry that el-Sisi's heavy-handed approach could end up bringing down his own government. "The policy that el-Sisi has pursued has created a large number of enemies in the country," said Michele Dunne, the director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. "The fact that one of those enemies would lash out at him whether through violence or a coup, that possibility is there. These are things notoriously difficult to predict."

 

Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told us he was less concerned about the potential for an assassination than he was about the broader issue of stability in Egypt. "It's stating the obvious that all those leaders in the region are under constant death threats, but that's not what concerns me," he said. Nunes, who visited with el-Sisi and toured the Sinai this year, said he was more worried about the broader economic instability in Egypt and a young population that is increasingly falling under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood and radical jihadi groups. "I hope el-Sisi can keep the country together," Nunes said. "Furthermore the Sinai is completely unstable where jihadis are roaming all over, and on the other side of Egypt you have Libya where we have no plan. This could potentially set Egypt into chaos."

 

Since el-Sisi took power, the U.S. government has struggled internally over whether to embrace what most analysts called a military coup. Although the U.S. government decided not to legally determine whether a coup had taken place, U.S. military sales of large weapons systems were suspended after Sisi took power. Secretary of State John Kerry led the camp pushing for a resumption of normal relations with Egypt, despite Sisi's brutal crackdown on political opposition, civil society and the press. (El-Sisi won a barely contested election in 2014 to the presidency.) By early 2015, the U.S. had fully lifted its suspension of U.S. arms sales to Egypt.

 

Sisi himself called on the international community to support his campaign against jihadis, in a speech Oct. 30 at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue. He urged world powers to let him consolidate power without criticism and international intervention. "National security in the Arab world is so threatened that it now requires — demands — the protection of what remains of the states and their institutions," he said. "We in Egypt are ready to work together with regional and international powers who understand the importance of the Arab world and believe that it is important not to interfere in Arab affairs, as supporting specific groups detracts from the role of the state."

 

But many of el-Sisi's allies fear the biggest threat to his rule is not international meddling, but Egyptians who have been radicalized by his campaign to consolidate his own power.                                                                    

                                                                       

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A PLAGUE ON EGYPT’S TOURISM   

Walter Russell Mead                                             

American Interest, Nov. 6, 2015

 

Bomb or no bomb? UK flights have started to transport back to Britain some of the 20,000 British tourists who were stranded at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea after intelligence emerged that the Russian plane that crashed over the Sinai over the weekend was likely brought down by an explosive device. But at the same time, Russia has now stopped all Russian flights bound for Egypt, a sign that the country is increasingly taking seriously the possibility that a bomb caused the crash. That coheres with the U.S. intel; replying to calls for caution from the Egyptian foreign minister about jumping to conclusions, a senior U.S. intelligence official said, “He hasn’t seen the information we have.”

 

As the belief that a bomb was the cause of the crash grows, and as investigators sift the debris and listen to the black box recordings (and as we think of the families of the victims), it’s worth thinking about what the crash could mean for Egypt and the world—because trouble in Egypt could be more consequential than many people understand.

 

The disruptions to UK travel to the popular resort will be felt in Cairo: 900,000 British tourists travel to Sharm el-Sheikh each year. In addition, Russian tourism—cheap package tours allowing Russians to get away from the gloom of winter—will be heavily affected, and tourism from the rest of the world will be taking a major knock on the head. Tourists shun places where tourists end up getting killed, and Egypt has never needed tourists more than it does now (the tourism industry in Egypt makes up about 11 percent of its GDP, and indirectly employs around 11.5 percent of the country’s workforce). And unfortunately for Egypt, international investors shy away from violent, unstable parts of the world.

 

Egypt does not have a lot of options for economic growth. The region is beset by wars in Libya, Syria and across the Red Sea in Yemen, and Egypt itself is embroiled in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Morsi government, including the harsh crackdown that followed Morsi’s fall. And even before the Morsi government fell, Egypt was already wounded by the instability under that government and permanently weakened by the old, corrupt nexus of clientelism and rent-seeking at the heart of Egypt’s political economy. All of that means there is not a lot of give in this fragile system on which millions of people depend.

 

Moreover, Egypt cannot expect much more help from abroad. The country is almost an afterthought in the West today, where the chief debate is over how much we should indulge our own narcissism by making meaningless and inconsequential gestures of moral disapprobation in the direction of its president and his very tough regime. That’s a mistake. The West was wrong to allow itself to be distracted from the much more consequential disaster in Syria by the relatively unimportant crisis in Libya (thereby contributing to the collapse of both countries into misery); it would be just as dangerous now to forget just how important Egypt is to the region—and how fragile the structure of Egypt’s society really is. If anarchy, chaos, widespread unrest, and terrorist ideology surge across Egypt, the resulting problems would dwarf anything we’ve seen in Syria.

 

Think, for example, of the migration flows if ordinary Egyptians—and the 8 million Christians among them—became so insecure that they felt the need to flee. Or think of the involvement of world powers seeking stability over the flow of commerce through the Suez Canal, and the panic in the Gulf as one of the remaining pillars of regional order crumbles. In addition, the consequences for Israel if the Sinai’s descent into chaos and jihadi control continues would be huge—as would be the human suffering, the growth in terror, and the impact on world oil prices of inexorably increasing regional disorder. Finally, there is the Humpty Dumpty problem: It would be very difficult to restore order in a country as large as Egypt if a true breakdown comes.

 

Fortunately, there are forces that hold Egypt together. Its people have a sense of national identity and common culture that most of its post-colonial, hastily stitched together neighbors lack. Bound together by 5,000 years of history and the waters of the Nile, Egyptians have a deep sense of collective identity; the same orientation toward a powerful state that hampers economic development also supports political stability. So Egypt is not fragile in the way that Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Iraq and, yes, Iran are fragile.

 

Even so, it is nowhere written on tablets of stone that Egypt can bear every burden and withstand every blow. As in much of the non-oil rich Middle East, the capacity of the Egyptian state to provide its people with acceptable conditions for life has been diminishing over time. The Muslim Brotherhood network became so powerful in part because state institutions were doing such a terrible job alleviating poverty, promoting educational opportunity, offering decent and affordable health care, and generally providing a safe and favorable environment for daily life. The Brotherhood could win friends by establishing parallel institutions that did what the state could not. But now those institutions have been thoroughly disrupted—and the state’s capacity has not grown…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

                                                           

                                                                       

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VETERANS LOOK BACK AT WORLD WAR II SERVICE                                                                

Paul Lungen                

Canadian Jewish News, Nov. 8, 2015

 

Morris Polansky was a teenage farm boy living in Oxbow, Sask. when he made his way to Winnipeg to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. Only 19 at the time, he had wanted to volunteer the year before, but some grizzled veterans from World War I advised him to finish high school first. Likely they knew what he was getting himself into and that there was no hurry to get into the fight. It was still 1940 and there was plenty of action to be seen by Polansky and others who volunteered to join the Canadian Armed Forces. Now 94, Polansky and fellow Jewish veterans Lorne Winer, 97, and Jerry Rosenberg, 93, recalled their military experiences, which saw intense fighting, close calls, the loss of comrades-in-arms and ultimately, victory over the Nazi beast.

 

As they have for years, the three will participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11 to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Winer and Rosenberg will be part of a contingent of Jewish war veterans of the General Wingate Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, marking the moment at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre at Spadina and Bloor. Polansky will be at Toronto Centre for the Arts, in North York, where he will lay a wreath during the services, just as he has done for several years.

 

Their stories are typical of the thousands of young Jewish men who volunteered to serve during World War II. Jews enlisted in far greater numbers than their proportion of the population would have warranted in 1940s Canada. An estimated 10 per cent of Jews joined one of the branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. For Polansky, at first it was the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. Coming from rural Canada, he was mightily impressed with an ad that ran on CKY radio in Winnipeg that announced the army was looking for 400 truck drivers. “I could hardly wait,” he said.

 

Pretty soon afterwards, however, he transferred into a unit that maintained and repaired electrical devices, including portable generators used in field medical units. The closest he came to a life and death experience was when in late 1943 the German air force bombed the transport ship he was on, en route to Italy. Luckily most of the soldiers were successfully evacuated in lifeboats before the ship sank, he said. Polansky saw duty in Italy. His unit was later transferred to the fighting in Belgium and Holland.

 

Rosenberg’s military service was entirely at sea. Unusual for most Jewish recruits, who chose the air force or the army, Rosenberg enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1940 and saw duty as a signal man on board a variety of corvettes. The small warships saw convoy duty, escorting merchant vessels from Canada to Britain. The ships were targeted by German submariners, and Winer was part of convoy SC 42 (the 42nd slow convoy), which was devastated by Nazi wolf packs that preyed on lightly defended ships. There was 64 ships in the convoy and only four escorts, including Rosenberg’s corvette, he said.

 

Arrayed against them was a group of 14 U-boats. One or two subs would attack and draw off the defenders, recalled Rosenberg, and then other U-boats would come in and attack the merchant ships. At the end of the engagement, 16 merchant ships were sunk and two others were damaged. Rosenberg, luckily, escaped that fate. “I was never on a ship that was sunk,” he said. But one incident came pretty close. A miscommunication between the captain on the bridge and a fire-control officer below decks, who spoke through communication tubes, led the officer to release depth charges set for 60 feet while the ship was travelling at only six knots. The depth charges exploded almost below the ship and lifted the stern clear out of the water, Rosenberg said…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

 

                                                                           

 

On Topic

 

ISIS’s ‘Most Potent’ Crew Is Now in Sinai—and Says It Bombed Russia’s Jet: Nancy A. Youssef & Shane Harris, Daily Beast, Nov. 5, 2015—Soon after Russian planes began dropping bombs on Islamic militants in Syria a month ago, in an effort to prop up the country’s embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad, ISIS vowed that Russia, and by extension its citizens, would be a target. Last Saturday, Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 departed Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and flew directly over the homebase of an ISIS affiliate with the ambition, and perhaps the capability, to make good on that threat.

In Egypt, Angry Talk of Western Conspiracy Over Plane Crash: Maram Mazen, Washington Post, Nov. 10, 2015 —Egyptian media have reacted with fury as Britain and the United States increasingly point to a bomb as the cause of the Oct. 31 Russian plane crash in Sinai, with many outlets hammering home the same message: Egypt is facing a Western conspiracy that seeks to scare off tourists and destroy the country’s economy.

Egypt’s Brazen Crackdown on Critics: New York Times, Nov. 9, 2015—On Sunday, Hossam Bahgat, a soft-spoken human rights activist and journalist, was summoned to an Egyptian military intelligence office in Cairo. These meetings have long terrified government critics in Egypt because they often lead to a descent into the country’s perverse justice system.

Inculcating Islamist Ideals in Egypt: Yohanan Manor, Middle East Quarterly, Fall, 2015 —In contrast to the widespread perception of the Mubarak regime (1981-2011) as modernist and largely secular, school textbooks of Egyptian history during his reign systematically watered down the narrative grounding the country's national identity in patriotic struggle against foreign invaders (Rome, Byzantium, Crusaders, Ottomans, Britain, Israel).