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Bolstered international support for LNA Field Marshal Haftar amid ongoing hostilities in Tripoli likely to prolong conflict – Libya Analysis

Executive summary

Over the past three years, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has gained increased domestic and international legitimacy amid his forces’ territorial advances in the Oil Crescent, Benghazi, Derna and the Fezzan Region.

On April 4, Haftar announced the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” aimed at taking control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked militias.

Despite this development, recent actions by prominent Western leaders, particularly of the US, the UK, and France, have increased the international legitimacy of the LNA vis-a-vis the UN-backed GNA in Libya.

This increased Western support for Haftar may be interpreted as a “green light” for his regional supporters, namely the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, to further extend financial and military assistance to the LNA.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Qatar have, and will continue to bolster their own measures to assist GNA-linked forces in Tripoli in order to further their own interests in the oil-rich country.

Overall, the bolstered international and regional involvement in the Libyan conflict will fuel further hostilities and the prolongation of fighting throughout the country, and specifically around Tripoli, in the coming months.

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Focal Points in Libya

Current Situation

On April 4, Haftar announced the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” aimed at taking control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked militias.

On April 10, France blocked an attempt by the European Union (EU) to publish an official statement condemning the LNA offensive on Tripoli.

On April 19, an official statement by the US State Department indicated that on April 15 the US President Donald Trump conversed with LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, recognizing his “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.

On April 23, the UN-backed Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, gave interviews for French news agencies, denouncing the French government’s support for Haftar.

On April 25, the LNA arrested two Turkish nationals in Tripoli. Reports quoting the LNA Spokesperson have indicated that they were arrested for alleged involvement in espionage activity. According to reports citing Turkish officials, the two were restaurant workers in Tripoli and were not involved with Turkish security forces.

On April 29, the GNA’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, visited Turkey to strengthen security and defense cooperation agreements. Bashagha was reportedly accompanied by the Chief of the Western Military Command, Usama al-Juwaili, and another top GNA-linked military official.

On April 29, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conversed with the GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, and expressed Turkey’s support for the GNA.

On May 18, the GNA-linked “Volcano of Wrath” Operations Room announced that they had received a ship containing military reinforcements. Picture material and additional reports indicate that the ship arrived from Turkey’s Samsun Port and contained multiple Turkish-made armored vehicles as well as other military hardware.

Background

The LNA’s Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s local and international legitimacy has significantly increased over the past three years. This can largely be attributed to the fact that since 2016, the LNA has made gradual territorial advances in Libya, which has resulted in an expansion of Haftar’s influence over almost two-thirds of the country. In September 2016, the LNA took control of the Oil Crescent from the former GNA-aligned Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). This was followed by the LNA’s announcement of the conclusion of its three-year long Operation “Dignity” on July 5, 2017, which resulted in the eviction of the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi (RSCB) and the Islamic State (IS) from the city. On June 28, 2018, Haftar announced that its forces had taken full control of the eastern city of Derna from the Derna Protection Force (DPF), formerly known as the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD). Finally, the LNA took full control of southern Libya as part of its Operation “Murzuq Basin” in March 2019.

Although, Haftar received initial support from the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and France, over the years, countries that were initially opposed to the LNA’s Operation “Dignity”, such as the US, the UK, and Italy have shown an increasing interest in negotiating with Haftar. This is underscored by a meeting between the former UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and the British Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, and Haftar in August 2017. More recently, Italy invited both the UN-backed GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj and Haftar to a conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy in November 2018 to discuss a potential date for a nationwide election process in the country.

Assessments & Forecast

Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia to extend further support to LNA amid ongoing clashes with GNA-linked forces in Tripoli

Initially, a significant support, mainly by Egypt and the UAE, had been extended to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the LNA, in light of the latter’s efforts to dislodge Islamist militants and militias from Benghazi. This most significantly came in the form of military hardware and logistical assistance by the two aforementioned countries, and the UAE’s manning of a al-Khadim airbase in 2016, to support the LNA’s military efforts. This extensive support was based since its initial phase upon Haftar’s self-positioning as the figure with the desire and ability to defeat Libya’s belligerent Islamist factions and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, which have gained significant foothold in the country amid the civil war. This is due to the fact that both Egypt and the UAE view these groups as a region-wide threat. Thus, the success of Haftar’s Operation “Dignity”, and his more recent success in taking control over the Fezzan Region, while emphasizing his determination to continue fighting such elements, has bolstered his position as a reliable ally for Egypt and the UAE. As for Egypt, another significant interest in strengthening the LNA was its determination to bolster an ally that would be able to secure the vast swaths of the desert-dense border areas between the two countries. These porous border areas serve as a major pipeline for both the smuggling of weapons and the movement of fighters from Libya into Egypt, and subsequently, to militant groups operating inside Egypt.

This emergence of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance, characterizing the LNA’s relations with Egypt and the UAE, was paralelled by the increasing of relations between the Tripoli-based GNA and Turkey and Qatar, who are perceived by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to be supporting Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups across Libya, including in Tripoli. This has reportedly involved Turkish shipments of weapons to such elements in western Libya, as was highlighted by the seizure of a Turkish arms-carrying naval vessel, detained in Libya in December 2018. The increase of relations between Turkey and the GNA was likely further prompted by the current ongoing clashes in the designated capital, and was most significantly highlighted by both the April 29 security-related visit by the GNA Interior Minister to Turkey and the phone conversation between GNA Prime Minister, al-Serraj, and President Erdogan, during which the latter emphasised his support for the former. This, in turn, may have been the preceding arrangement for the May 18 reinforcement shipment, reportedly arriving from Turkey, which contained multiple Turkish-made armored vehicles as well as military hardware.

This more overt Turkish involvement has, in turn, drawn further accusation from the LNA of Turkish sponsorship of Islamist factions in and around the capital. In this framework, the LNA’s April 25 detention of two Turkish nationals on espionage charges indicates a further deterioration of relations between the LNA and Turkey. Regardless of whether or not the arrestees were indeed involved in espionage activities, the event is likely perceived by the LNA as an opportunity to further paint Turkey as intervening in Libya’s internal affairs in support of “extreme elements”. This, in turn, is likely perceived by the LNA as an opportunity to prompt its traditional aforementioned backers to supply it with additional assistance and potentially even draw the attention of other international stakeholders towards Turkey’s policies. Such efforts may have been the reason behind what appears to be greater support for Field Marshal Haftar by Saudi Arabia’s King Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), who has expressed the Kingdom’s support for the former and has also reportedly offered to financially support the LNA’s Tripoli campaign during an official meeting between the two on March 27.

FORECAST: Significant support and material assistance will continue to be extended towards the LNA by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This will highly likely manifest in the form of direct aerial support, as well as military and financial aid aimed at bolstering the LNA’s capabilities and enabling it to continue its offensive on the designated capital. In terms of physical military assistance to the LNA, it remains likely that the UAE will assist the LNA with additional employment of attack and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as it has done in the past, and given that it still possesses an active UAV base in eastern Libya. Such support is likely to be already taking place given multiple reports indicating the discovery of remnants of missiles believed to be a type used by the UAE UAVs, and is in any case not in use by any Libyan faction. However, such assistance is likely to remain relatively limited and covert, as the UAE will likely attempt to refrain from being painted as overtly challenging a UN-backed government.

FORECAST: Given the heightened tensions between the LNA on the one side and Turkey and Qatar on the other side, specifically surrounding the ongoing fighting in Tripoli, we assess that over the coming weeks, Turkish and Qatari nationals or corporations will face a growing threat of being subjected to arbitrary measures in LNA-controlled territories in Libya. This will most likely entail extrajudicial measures, such as arbitrary arrests and military prosecution over alleged charges of espionage and militant activity.

Increased political support for LNA by major Western stakeholders bolster LNA’s legitimacy, incentivise regional backers to extend further support to LNA

Most of the Western governments involved in Libya, such as the UK, Italy, France, and the US, initially primarily backed the UN-led initiative to reinvigorate a viable political process for Libya’s unification under one functioning government. This initiative partially came in the form of the establishment of the GNA in December 2015, which has since been the officially recognized government in Libya by the UN. That being said, the aforementioned ability of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to take control of the Oil Crescent has consolidated his international standing among these countries. This was most significantly highlighted by the actions of Italy, a prominent supporter of the GNA, which has, after Haftar’s aforementioned successes, dedicated significant effort to convince him to participate in the political effort to unite the country under the Italian-initiated Palermo Conference in November 2018. Despite Italy’s backing of the GNA, Italian symbolic acceptance of Field Marshal Haftar was more recently highlighted even amid the ongoing offensive on the capital, when Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on May 7 that he is seeking to meet Field Marshal Haftar in the near future. In a similar vein, a process of gradual political acceptance towards the Field Marshal was also recorded in the UK. This mainly materialized after Haftar’s territorial gains in the Oil Crescent and Benghazi, resulting in a more accepting discourse by the UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, in an official meeting between the two in August 2017.

France, contrary to the aforementioned European powers, extended its support in terms of military advisory assistance to Field Marshal Haftar during his initial Operation “Dignity”, aimed at dislodging Islamist militants from Benghazi. A more robust support by France followed Haftar’s takeover of the Oil Crescent, when President Emmanuel Macron invited the Field Marshal to the Paris Conference in 2017. That being said, despite having given such support to the Field Marshal, the French government has never explicitly acted in defense of the LNA and against the UN-backed international effort to establish unified political establishments in the country. Thus, the April 10 measure by the French government, namely the blocking of an official EU condemnation, is highly notable as it constitutes France’s first overt political support for the LNA at the expense of the UN and EU efforts to condemn and exert political pressure upon Field Marshal Haftar. This, in turn, has prompted significant protests in GNA-controlled territories, such as the April 19 “yellow vests” demonstrations in Tripoli and Misrata, with protesters dispensing anti-Macron discourse to denounce the French government’s backing of Haftar. In addition, the development has prompted GNA Prime Minister, al-Serraj, to give interviews to two primary French news agencies, where he publicly denounced the French government’s support for the “Dictator” Hafter. Lastly, this has also prompted political action by the GNA, with most significantly the Interior Ministry’s decision on April 18 to suspend bilateral cooperation with France, and the GNA Ministry of Economy and Industry’s decision to suspend operation licences of 40 companies, including a major French oil and gas company, on May 8.

The April 19 incident involving the US President highlights another culmination of international support by Western leaders for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the LNA, despite the official UN support for the Tripoli-based GNA. Furthermore, on April 4, a press statement by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, expressed the US’ opposition to Haftar’s move towards Tripoli, urging a cessation of the offensive. The aforementioned phone call, however, took place approximately two weeks after the LNA has commenced its offensive, which could be interpreted as a shift in the US administration’s approach to Libya and its greater acceptance of Haftar, at least by the president himself. This apparent change in the US president’s approach and the robust support extended to the Field Marshal by France, could be interpreted as predicated upon a few factors.

First, the extensive territorial gains made by Haftar in the Fezzan Region have highly likely bolstered his standing vis-a-vis the GNA, regardless of whether or not the current assault on Tripoli will succeed. The Fezzan Region has been regarded as one of the major regional focal points for contraband, illegal immigration, and militancy-related activities for international stakeholders, such as the EU, and some of Libya’s neighboring Arab countries, primarily Egypt. This is due to the fact that since Muammar Ghaddhafi’s fall in 2011, the Fezzan Region has hosted the major transit routes through which immigrants from West Africa have been travelling, via Libya’s border-crossings with Niger and Chad, towards Europe. This, in turn, has also attracted criminal, militia, and militant networks wishing to capitalize upon the ungoverned territories of the Fezzan to further strengthen their operations, while local authorities were either absent or incapacitated to act upon these threats. For this reason, the LNA has dedicated extensive discursive and physical effort towards emphasizing its determination to mitigate threats emanating from the country’s border areas. Through this, Haftar is able to capitalize upon European interests related to counter-militancy and counter-immigration efforts to gain the aforementioned political support, primarily from France.

In addition, the Fezzan campaign has resulted in Haftar’s possession of the al-Feel and Sharara oil fields, which account for approximately a quarter of the country’s oil production potential. As was recorded after his takeover of the Oil Crescent, this development increased Haftar’s international standing as an arbiter in the competition between foreign companies over stakes in Libya’s oil industry. Such competition has reportedly taken place between major Italian and French companies seeking opportunities in the country’s oil market and wishing to see the stabilization of the region. Furthermore, Haftar’s control over the majority of Libya’s oil fields, with Libya potentially being one of the top world producers of oil, stations Haftar as a potential influencer in global oil prices. This, in turn, can make Haftar a lucrative partner for major international powers seeking to influence trends in global oil prices for their interests. In the case of the US, the stabilization of Libya’s oil industry in the hands of a potential ally could serve important American national security interests that are currently being pursued, such as stabilizing a low oil price amid the ongoing sanctions against Iran.

FORECAST: Given the aforementioned developments involving the US and France, it is likely that despite the overall condemnation of the LNA by major international institutions such as the UN, these countries will continue to extend their support to the LNA. Though such support is overall likely to remain symbolic, it may be interpreted by the actors more vigorously and physically supporting the LNA, such as the UAE and Egypt, as a “green light” to employ greater measures to facilitate the LNA’s takeover of the designated capital. Meanwhile, given the heightened tensions between the GNA and the French government, and given the increased anti-French sentiment expressed in Libya’s GNA-strongholds, such as Tripoli and Misrata, over the coming months French nationals and corporations will face a growing threat from local citizens and potentially armed militias which operate in western Libya and are opposing current French policies towards Libya.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. We advise at this time that those remaining in Tripoli and Benghazi should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to deterioration in the security situation. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Travel to Misrata and Tobruk should be for essential purposes only, while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and militancy. We advise against all travel to outlying areas of the country, due to the threat of militancy, kidnapping, and general lawlessness in such areas.

French nationals operating or residing in Libya are advised to keep a low profile and to overall refrain from externalizing their nationality in western Libya’s major GNA strongholds, such as Tripoli and Misrata, due to increased public expression of anti-French sentiment in these locales.

Turkish and Qatari nationals operating or residing in Libya are advised to keep a low profile and to overall refrain from externalizing their nationality in LNA-controlled territories. This is due to a growing risk of arbitrary measures and detentions by the LNA, following the aforementioned countries’ support for GNA-linked forces.

Avoid entering Libyan territorial waters in the area between Benghazi and al-Tamimi without prior authorization, as a no-sail zone is currently in effect in this area and several naval vessels had been intercepted or attacked due to not following proper procedures.

In addition, avoid entering Libyan territorial waters off the coast of Tripoli due to the heavy deployment of LNA naval vessels in the area. If travel is unavoidable, seek prior permission from the relevant authorities in order to mitigate the risk of interception on account of misidentification.

Those planning to conduct air travel to, from and inside Libya should avoid entering the area between Marsa al-Brega, Sirte and Sebha, as it was declared a no-fly zone by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Those planning to conduct air travel to and from Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport are advised to follow all relevant security protocols due to the increased threat to aviation in the capital as a result of the ongoing hostilities.

We further advise against all travel to Libya’s border areas at this time due to persistent violence and lawlessness in these regions.

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

Constitutional amendments to significantly increase President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s power over legislature, judiciary branches – Egypt Analysis

Executive Summary

  • According to reports from April 23, amendments to 14 articles within Egypt’s 2014 constitution were approved in a nationwide referendum, which was held between April 19-22. 88.8 percent of the eligible electorate voted in favor of the amendments. The referendum witnessed a turnout of 44.3 percent.
  • This development is highly notable as it will extend President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s presidential term from four to six years as well as allow him to seek re-election for a third term. This will allow the president to further entrench himself within the country’s political apparatus.
  • The constitutional amendments will significantly expand presidential powers, allowing al-Sisi to exert increased influence over the parliament and the judiciary. It will also allow the military to influence the country’s civil apparatus through the appointment of a Minister of Defense.
  • The low voter turnout indicates that the amendments are likely not as popular among the locals as projected by the government. While opposition groups may utilize this argument to delegitimize the amendments, they are unlikely to be able to mobilize enough support to challenge al-Sisi, thus not interfering with his accumulation of further power over the coming years.
  • Travel to Egypt may continue while adhering to all security precautions. It is advised to refrain from discussions with locals on the current political situation, the constitutional amendment process, the Muslim Brotherhood, and criticism toward the government.

Background

In February 2019, Abdel Hady al-Qasabi, the leader of the majority party, the Support Egypt Coalition, submitted a proposal for 14 amendments to Egypt’s 2014 constitution to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ali Abdel Aal. The amendments were passed in the parliament by over a two-thirds majority, which is the required majority for the passage of a bill on constitutional amendments. 531 Members of Parliament (MPs) out of 596 voted in favor of the motion. On April 14, the parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee approved the final draft of the proposed amendments. A nationwide referendum was held from April 19-22 on this final draft of the proposed amendments. 88.8 percent of voters voted in favor of the constitutional amendments. The turnout for the referendum was 44.3 percent of the eligible electorate. According to Abdel Aal, Egypt will “need to write a completely new constitution within the next 10 years”.

Executive Branch

Current Situation

  • The constitutional amendments will increase the presidential term from four to six years, with a maximum limit of two terms. However, according to a provisional article introduced in the amendments, current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will be allowed to run for a third term following the conclusion of his second term in office in 2024.
  • The constitutional amendments will also re-introduce the position of vice president, which was abolished in 2012 to better balance the powers between a presidential and parliamentary system. The president will have the authority to appoint one or more vice presidents.
  • If the president is not able to exercise his/her powers, the vice president will be responsible for dispensing the role of the president of the republic. However, the vice president will not have the power to amend the constitution, dissolve the House of Representatives or Senate, or dismiss the government. He/she will also not be allowed to run for the position of the president.

Assessments & Forecast

  1. This development is highly notable as it will essentially allow al-Sisi to remain in power at least until 2030, depending upon whether the president decides to run for office for another term upon completion of his second term in 2024. The overwhelming support for al-Sisi within the Egyptian parliament likely facilitated the constitutional amendment process. During the 2018 presidential elections, there was speculation regarding whether al-Sisi would run for a third term in office, which goes against the two-term limit prescribed under the 2014 constitution. This had prompted a vague response from al-Sisi in his acceptance speech in April 2018, which indicated that he would “respect the constitution” and the “will of the people”.
  2. In this context, the recent constitutional amendments are part of an effort by the president to preserve his power, while at the same time purporting to the local and international media that he and his government are respecting democratic values and principals. The constitutional amendments and the nationwide referendum on them will enable al-Sisi to legitimize his power as well as preserve his relations with the West, particularly with the US and France, which have provided Egypt with substantial economic and military aid over the past years.
  3. Furthermore, as indicated by the Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Abdel Aal, there is a possibility that the parliament will propose additional amendments to the current constitution or possibly even draft a completely new constitution for the country over the coming years. Therefore, an increase in his presidential term and term limit will allow al-Sisi to ensure that any additional changes to the constitution take place under his overview, thereby allowing him to further cement his power within the Egyptian political apparatus over the coming years.
  4. The reinstatement of the post of vice president is also meant to align with this goal. The president has the sole authority to appoint a vice president, which will enable al-Sisi to appoint one of his loyalists to the post. The fact that the vice president will be in charge of dispensing the duties of the president, in the event that the latter is unable to exercise his powers, will ensure the continuation of the policies implemented under al-Sisi. This is opposed to the provisions stated under the 2014 constitution, wherein the Prime Minister, who is an elected official, would be responsible for dispensing presidential duties in the absence of the president. In addition, the vice president’s lack of power to amend the constitution, dissolve the House of Representatives or Senate, dismiss the government, or run for president, will ensure that al-Sisi does not face a challenge to his authority from within his inner circle.

Legislative Branch

Current Situation

  • The number of elected MPs in the House of Representatives will be reduced from 596 to 450, with 25 percent seats reserved for women representatives.
  • A Senate, comprising of a minimum of 180 members, will be established. Two-thirds of the members of the Senate will be elected in a secret ballot and one-third will be appointed by the president. The Senate will have a five-year term.
  • The Senate’s authority will extend to topics such as proposals for constitutional amendments, legislation on social and economic development as well as bilateral treaties and alliances.

Assessments & Forecast

  1. Prior to the referendum, Egypt had been a unicameral legislature, with only a House of Representatives. The introduction of a Senate, with a minimum of 180 members of parliament (MPs) would significantly increase the total number of MPs within the parliament, and therefore the decrease in the number of MPs in the House of Representatives is likely meant to balance this out. However, all MPs within the House of Representatives are directly elected by the local population, and the fact that one-third of the MPs within the Senate will be presidential nominees will significantly increase the president’s influence over the legislative branch of the government. Although the powers of the Senate are significantly lower than the House of Representatives, the former does have influence over several topics, such as proposals for constitutional amendments. This will further increase al-Sisi’s ability to get his policies enacted into legislation by the parliament, without any significant opposition.
  2. Aside from this, the decision to reserve 25 percent seats within the House of Representatives for women is likely part of the effort to project the current leadership as progressive. Pro-al-Sisi MPs will likely highlight this measure in their rhetoric to support the recent constitutional amendments and use it as a counter-argument for any criticism directed towards these measures by opposition groups, international media, and international human rights organizations. This will also allow al-Sisi to appeal to Western countries, by projecting that his government is upholding the liberal values of equitable representation. Moreover, it would help al-Sisi to garner the support of the country’s female population, which makes up almost half of the eligible electorate of the country, for any future legislation.

Judicial Branch

Current Situation

  • The president will have the power to appoint the heads of all judicial authorities for a term of four years. A higher council of judicial authorities will be established and the president will be its head. It remains unclear whether the judicial authorities would be eligible for re-appointment for a second consecutive term.
  • The president will also have the power to appoint a prosecutor-general from among three candidates nominated by the higher council of judicial authorities. The prosecutor-general’s term in office will be four years. It remains unclear whether the prosecutor-general would be eligible for re-appointment for a second consecutive term.
  • The president will furthermore have the authority to name the Chairman as well as the commissioners of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
  • Civilians can face trial in military courts is cases of assault against military establishments, military camps, military zones and borders, military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, secrets, funds, and army factories. Such crimes would also include assault of officers and personnel affiliated with the armed forces while they are performing their duties.
  • The Minister of Defense will be named only upon approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The SCAF is a statutory body comprised of 20-25 senior Egyptian military officers and is headed by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. The SCAF is convened only in times of war or a nationwide emergency.

 

Assessments & Forecast

  1. These provisions will significantly increase the president’s power over the judicial branch of the government. The president’s ability to appoint the heads of all judicial authorities within the country will allow al-Sisi to further crackdown on any form of dissent, which includes opposition leaders, journalists, and members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood political movement. This, in turn, would allow al-Sisi to further consolidate his powers, as the lack of an effective opposition would allow him to project an image of popular local support. The al-Sisi-led government has passed several laws over the past year, which allow security forces to increasingly monitor social media and traditional media platforms. On June 29, 2018, the Egyptian parliament approved a bill that would allow the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to monitor social media accounts with over 5,000 followers. The measure was reportedly adopted to block accounts that publish “fake news” or propagate the “breaking of law, violence or hatred”. Therefore, this constitutional amendment will ensure that the president is able to successfully have individuals arrested under such laws to be prosecuted by the courts.
  2. Moreover, the president’s authority over the appointment of the Chairman and commissioners of the Supreme Constitutional Court will provide al-Sisi with substantial powers over the review of legislative laws. The Supreme Constitutional Court in the sole judicial authority in charge of deciding the constitutionality of laws and regulations formulated by the parliament. Therefore, this measure will allow al-Sisi to influence judicial decisions on constitutional reviews, particularly on laws aimed at expanding his own powers or clamping down on dissent. This will also allow the al-Sisi-led government to censor traditional media, which is perceived to publish materials deemed as anti-government in nature, on the basis of “national security”, without the threat that such an exercise of power may attract the condemnation of the judiciary. This, in turn, would allow the president to influence local and international public opinion in favor of his presidency and policies.
  3. The provisions regarding the military will further increase the military establishment’s influence within the civil apparatus of Egypt. They will allow the government to try a varied number of individuals in military courts, regardless of the actual crime. On the one hand, this measure will allow the government to try militants who have engaged in attacks against security forces, such as those affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), IS-affiliated Wilayat Sinai, or disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups, to be tried in military courts. On the other hand, this measure will also allow the government to extend the jurisdiction of military courts to include those individuals who may be perceived by the authorities as being subversive. For example, locals who may have been involved in scuffles with the police during any kind of protest activity in the country could also be tried in military courts on grounds that they assaulted security personnel during the discharge of their duties. This may also include individuals arrested on charges of “espionage” or funding of anti-government groups. This will allow the president to successfully prosecute his opponents without having to adhere to the laws and procedures of civilian courts.
  4. The fact that the appointment of the Minister of Defense can only be done in consultation with the SCAF will increase the influence of the military in Egypt’s civil apparatus. The SCAF is known to be comprised of old guard military officers, who helped al-Sisi during the military coup against former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Al-Sisi is heavily reliant upon the support of the SCAF and the military establishment as a whole to ensure power stability. Therefore, through the appointment of a favorable Minister of Defense, the SCAF will be able to influence legislation and policies on national security. This will also at least partly allow the military to divert funds and resources towards the army, at the expense of other areas, such as economic and social development. The national security rhetoric adopted by the al-Sisi-led government will potentially aid in such a scenario.

Conclusion

Taken as a whole, the implementation of these constitutional amendments will significantly increase President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s powers within the country. However, the authorities had undertaken significant measures to incentivize voting in the nationwide referendum process and the fact that the turnout was only 44.3 percent of the eligible electorate indicates that these amendments are likely not as popular among the local population of Egypt as projected by the government. Opposition groups may attempt to utilize this argument to delegitimize the constitutional amendments and garner support for their anti-government activity. This will likely prompt a harsh response from the current leadership, which may manifest in the form of the detainment or arrest of political leaders, journalists, as well as individuals who are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The mobilization capacity of opposition groups in Egypt is currently very low, and this development has the potential to further adversely impact the ability of the opposition to organize under strong and unified leadership. Therefore, any potential low-level resistance to the constitutional amendments is unlikely to have a significant impact upon the al-Sisi-led government’s hold on political power in the country. This will allow al-Sisi to gradually accumulate further power both by taking advantage of vague laws and through additional amendments to the constitution in the coming years, further cementing his control over the country.

Recommendations

  1. Those operating or residing in Egypt are advised to refrain from discussions with locals on the current political situation, the constitutional amendment process, the Muslim Brotherhood, and criticism toward the government.
  2. Avoid making any statements critical of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, government policies, and ongoing trials, as well as companies, given that legal measures, including deportation and detention, have been taken regardless of nationality. This applies both to public spaces and online, including in social media.
  3. Be advised that authorities may monitor online communications and any statements perceived to be anti-government in nature may increase the risk of detention or even arrest.
  4. In the event that a security checkpoint is encountered, act respectfully and patiently, while cooperating fully with security personnel.
  5. In addition, refrain from photographing or documenting protests and security installations at all costs, as such actions may draw hostility from local residents or confiscation of equipment by security forces, or possible detainment.
  6. As a precaution, refrain from traveling with sophisticated cameras or other features affiliated with journalists, as this may be perceived by the authorities as an attempt to undermine the government and its policies.
  7. As a general precaution, avoid all demonstrations and political gatherings in Egypt due to potential unrest emanating from such events, particularly given the government’s increased crackdown on opposition groups across the country.

Potential for militancy, protest activity heightened during March 26-28 elections; major instability as seen in past years unlikely – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On March 26-28, Egypt will hold Presidential elections. Current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will be running for reelection against El-Ghad Party leader Moussa Mostafa Moussa.

Moussa has stated that he supports al-Sisi for president, despite his own candidacy. Numerous political opposition leaders declared a boycott of the elections, in protest of the current administration’s detention and alleged pressure on previous candidates to withdraw.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood political organization and other anti-government groups have yet to release official calls for protests during the elections. In recent weeks, authorities announced arrests of Muslim Brotherhood elements “seeking to interrupt the elections and endanger public safety.” On less frequent occasions in past weeks, security forces apprehended militants belonging to the Hasam Movement, a militant group comprised of pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements, who were “planning to carry out attacks during the elections”.

The Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai released media on February 11 in which it threatens to attack polling stations across the country during the elections, and warned “the Muslim public” to avoid voting sites and other locales associated with the elections in view of attack operations. The Sunni jihadist group stated the Presidential elections are “the greatest form of polytheism.”

In IS’s official literature on February 15, the group encouraged attacks by its militants and supporters, stating that “attacks will show al-Sisi’s allies that he is incapable of controlling security in the main areas under his rule, let alone distant regions like Sinai, the Western Desert, and areas in Aswan and Upper Egypt.”

Assessments & Forecast

Al-Sisi likely to be reelected

Considering al-Sisi’s current competition in the election, the result is likely predetermined, and al-Sisi will be reelected for another term. Moussa’s candidacy is likely meant to provide the elections with an appearance of being democratic and to lend credibility to al-Sisi’s mandate as head of state upon his reelection. The successful removal of all serious candidates is indicative of the support al-Sisi maintains among Egypt’s military and security elites, who trust that he will protect their interests, especially their financial stakes and Egypt’s overall stability. The detention of two former high-ranking figures of the armed forces demonstrated this, namely former Prime Minister and Egyptian Air Force (EAF) Commander in Chief Ahmed Shafiq, and former Chief of Staff of Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Sami Hafez Anan, who both subsequently left the Presidential race. Al-Sisi could not have placed these long-serving, well-connected military rivals into custody if he did not have the backing of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the heads of Egypt’s intelligence service. In light of this, al-Sisi will likely retain this support in the coming years, rendering a change in the country’s leadership improbable.

Protests likely in lead-up, during elections, but government likely to effectively contain

Though calls for holding anti-government protests during the elections have yet to be issued, they will likely be released in the coming days, given widely held sentiments against the current leadership, and a view of the elections as undemocratic prevailing among the public. Muslim Brotherhood activists release calls for nationwide protests on a weekly basis, and the theme of their anti-government protest activity in the coming week is liable to focus on denouncing the al-Sisi Presidency and elections as illegitimate. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups will likely stage protests in conjunction with the elections.

FORECAST: The rate of protest activity will likely rise over this period relative to recent months. Some of these will be planned, and others will occur on a sporadic, spontaneous basis, likely near polling stations. The protests may devolve into civil unrest, featuring scuffles and localized clashes between participants and security personnel. This would stem from the anti-government nature of the demonstrations and heightened sensitivity over the elections. Events of this volatile nature would likely be forcibly scattered by security forces, including through the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets.

However, this period is unlikely to witness the type of destabilizing unrest seen during Egypt’s revolution and subsequent political upheaval of 2011-2013. In more recent years, the rate of anti-government protest activity and unrest has declined significantly. This is due to various government measures, including the arrests of thousands of anti-government activists and their leaders. This has left such groups without much of its capable leadership who organized political operations and demonstrations, and deprived of a large share of their membership. Citizens’ political will to engage in major protest campaigns has also likely markedly diminished, given protesters’ general lack of success in achieving their goals, and the human toll taken over the course of their pursuits.

Moreover, in advance of recent sensitive political dates and events, authorities have also closed off symbolic places previously used as protest sites, including Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well as main thoroughfares. This has prevented protests from materializing, thus averting large-scale violent incidents as seen in 2001-2013, and stopping protest movements from gaining traction and momentum overall. Authorities will once again implement this security strategy from May 26-28, which will likely be effective overall in containing and preventing anti-government demonstrations.

Militancy threats from jihadist, disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups heightened during election period

The rate of militancy-related events in mainland Egypt, including attacks and arrests of militants, has declined in recent years, and more so over past months. However, the potential for militant attacks on March 26-28 will be relatively heightened, as militant groups seek to damage al-Sisi’s reputation for tackling militancy, presenting him as unable to secure the country. A successful attack during the period of the Presidential elections would attract wide media attention for the militant group responsible, given the public and symbolic nature of this period. This would bolster the militant group’s profile, including by its members and supporters, possibly motivating further attacks and drawing recruits to its ranks. This is underscored by an IED attack targeting Alexandria’s chief of police on March 24 which authorities have stated was carried out by the Hasam Movement. A further example of such an event is the most recent attack in mainland Egypt claimed by IS, namely the operation targeting a Coptic Church in Helwan during the holiday season, on December 29, 2017.

As to the statements released by IS and its Sinai-affiliate threatening and calling for attacking polling stations and associated installations, these were likely aimed to deter Egyptians from voting, thus lowering the participation rate in the elections. This would further undermine al-Sisi’s mandate in the view of the Egyptian public, and diminish the reputation of the country’s authorities. This corresponds to IS’s overall strategy in Egypt, which is to weaken Egypt’s leadership, damage the State, in turn replacing it with an Islamic State in the future. Another Sunni jihadist group posing potential dangers during the election period, is the relatively new Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, which was responsible for the large-scale October 20, 2017 Bahariya Oasis attack. According to reports, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam has gained dozens of new members in recent months, including Islamist former members of the security forces, and an attack during the elections would greatly publicize the group’s existence and present it as especially capable.

The Hasam Movement, and similar militant groups consisting of pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements such as Liwaa al-Thawra, likely see the election period as a particularly attractive time to launch attacks. This is in response to the Muslim Brotherhood political organization’s continued banned status and removal from the sanctioned political landscape, and in response to authorities’ ongoing crackdown on the group’s members. These groups target security personnel, government officials, and those aligned with authorities. That said, bystanders face a threat of collateral damage in the event of the attacks. Overall, these groups have not been especially active of late, and the last claimed attack claimed was for an IED detonation at the Myanmar Embassy in Cairo on September 30, 2017, which Hasam claimed to have executed. However, the groups remain in operation, as indicated by periodically recorded arrests of their members over past months, and thus, they pose a persisting threat, especially during the symbolic election period.

FORECAST: Over the coming days, authorities will implement bolstered security protocols around the country, including posting additional security personnel, especially near polling stations and potential protest sites on May 26-28. Security forces will likely carry out raids targeting both militant elements and anti-government activists, to mitigate the potential for militant activity and larger-scale civil unrest to unfold. However, comparatively large gatherings of security personnel present attractive targets for militant groups, which may draw the attention of such elements during the elections. Citizens may view additional security personnel at protest sites as oppressive, exacerbating tensions between the sides, and fomenting localized unrest.

Recommendations

On March 26-28 avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of polling stations, given the heightened threat of militancy and protests posed to these locations during this time period.

Allot for disruptions and plan alternative routes for travel due to the likely closures of main roads and thoroughfares concurrent with the elections.

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

Avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

Remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

New military campaign in North Sinai likely linked to upcoming March 2018 presidential elections – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On February 9, the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Spokesperson announced the commencement of a large-scale “comprehensive” military operation to “eliminate all terrorist elements” across the country, called “Operation Sinai 2018”, with special emphasis placed on the Sinai Peninsula, Nile Delta, and Western Desert. The Spokesperson also announced an increase of the country’s alert level due to the operations.

As part of the of the campaign, the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) intensified the frequency of its airstrikes targeting militant hideouts throughout North Sinai Governorate, especially in the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle and Central Sinai District. The Egyptian Navy increased its activity along Sinai’s coastal region, while heightened security protocols were recorded at ports and border crossings. Security forces also increased presence in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations. Reports from February 9 indicate that civilian Suez Canal crossings from mainland Egypt to the Sinai, including by vessel and through tunnels, have been closed to civilian traffic due to the military campaign.

On March 8, the EAAF Spokesperson stated that Operation Sinai 2018 had yielded the deaths of 105 Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai fighters and the arrests of hundreds of the group’s militants, and that 16 soldiers had also been killed since the beginning of the campaign. The Spokesperson also announced that the EAAF destroyed 1,907 hideouts and weapon storehouses.

Assessments & Forecast

The Egyptian government has achieved partial success in containing militancy threats over the past year, with a reduction in the overall number of attacks. However, the persistence, albeit reduced frequency, of attacks in North Sinai Governorate and mainland Egypt likely motivated this recent operation, demonstrating efforts to mitigate threats from multiple groups, particularly the IS-affiliate Wilayat Sinai. The large-scale attack at a mosque in North Sinai’s Bir al-Abd on November 24, 2017, which killed over 300 people, also likely triggered the operation, and it took a period of months to prepare and mobilize for the current operation.

However, considering the timing of its commencement and execution, the primary motivation for the military campaign is likely political and connected to the upcoming March 2018 presidential elections, in which President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the leading candidate. President al-Sisi likely initiated the operations in order to boost his status among the Egyptian populace and project an image of power, stability, and intensified efforts to tackle the threat of militancy. Al-Sisi also likely timed the operation to deflect domestic and international criticism away from the election’s perceived lack of legitimacy and toward the issue of counter-terrorism, following the withdrawal or arrest of most of his electoral opponents over the past several weeks. To a lesser but still significant degree, the operation was also likely launched to draw attention away from Egypt’s poor economic conditions and towards a different public issue, namely militancy, and measures taken by authorities to tackle it.

The operations also follow international media reports about Israeli airstrikes against Wilayat Sinai in North Sinai in recent years. The Egyptian government likely intends to use the operations to demonstrate their sovereignty over North Sinai Governorate and their ability to mitigate militant threats with their own forces. This is particularly likely in light of the heightened criticism regarding al-Sisi’s close cooperation with Israeli authorities vis-a-vis the threat of militancy stemming from Wilayat Sinai elements.

Strategically, the nationwide campaign aims largely at isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in North Sinai Governorate. The reported closure of Suez Canal crossings to the movement of civilians, as well as the intensified activity by the Egyptian Navy along the Sinai coastal region, are meant to prevent reinforcements and smugglers from aiding Wilayat Sinai militants, thus putting further pressure on the Sunni jihadist militant group in North Sinai Governorate. The heightened security measures in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations likely were put in place to prevent reprisal attacks by militants, which in turn, would embarrass the Egyptian authorities.

FORECAST: The EAAF will likely continue implementing a strategy aimed at further isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in their aforementioned strongholds of Central Sinai Distinct and the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle. By carrying out simultaneous assaults on these two areas, the EAAF likely seeks to fix militants in their positions, preventing them from reinforcing the two respective areas or conducting attacks to the rear of security forces. The intensified aerial bombardments are meant to hamper militant movements, which in turn, may impede their ability to regroup or conduct attacks in order to force the deployment of Egyptian troops away from the frontlines. Furthermore, tighter inspection is liable to be enforced between Egypt and Gaza at the Rafah border crossings.

Israel permitted Egypt to deploy a large amount of forces into Sinai, as according to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Israeli permission is required for such a move. This highlights the increased coordination between the two countries, as they both perceived Wilayat Sinai as a strategic threat. In order to complicate and discourage the security coordination between the two countries, Wilayat Sinai may target southern Israel with rocket fire over the coming days and weeks. While in the short-term, the number of Wilayat Sinai attacks may decrease, given precedent of previous operations by the EAAF in North Sinai Governorate, over the coming months the Sunni jihadist militant group will likely renew its elevated activity in the region. The group will likely lower its profile in order to facilitate this, which would enable it to regroup and carry out multiple attacks against Egyptian security forces.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

Threat to aviation by anti-tank guided missiles highlighted by al-Arish Airport attack case study – Special Analysis Report

Case study: December 20 attack on al-Arish Airport

On December 20, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM)  targeted a helicopter on the ramp of al-Arish Airport, located in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The helicopter carried, among others, the Egyptian interior and defense ministers who disembarked from the aircraft shortly before the attack.

On December 21, the Islamic State (IS)-linked news agency released a report on the attack, alongside a claim of responsibility by the local IS affiliate Wilayat Sinai, stating that the group had prior knowledge of the arrival of the ministers and dispatched a team of militants to ambush the entourage. It further stated that the attack was conducted with the use of a 9M133 “Kornet” ATGM that targeted an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that was escorting the VIPs.

Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack
Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack

Later that day, the IS-linked news agency released a video showing the attack itself, in which the ministers and their entourage can be seen next to the helicopter with its navigation lights still on, which contrary to initial publications was a UH-60 “Blackhawk”, as it was hit by an ATGM.

Edition number 111 of IS’s weekly al-Naba newsletter published on December 22 included a more detailed and contradictory account of the attack, stating that militants spotted a helicopter with a “unique shape” and concluded that this would be a high value target.

This prompted militants to dispatch an ATGM team to a position overlooking the airport with the objective of destroying the “unique aircraft”.

It is important to mention that the Egyptian Air Force (EAAF) reportedly operated two Blackhawk helicopters prior to the attack, mainly in the role of VIP transport. These aircraft are much more distinct than others that would commonly be seen in Sinai’s airspace, such as Apaches or Mi-17s.

Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS's weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports
Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS’s weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports

Analysis of the missile launch:

While there has been no corroboration as to the type of missile used by IS in the attack at the time of writing, Wilayat Sinai have employed Kornets several times in the past, most notably in July 2015 when the group used the missile to attack an Egyptian naval vessel off the coast of North Sinai’s Rafah.

If the missile used was in fact a Kornet as IS claims, given that the missile was in flight for 14 seconds from launch until it hit its target and given that the speed of a standard Kornet missile is between 250 and 300 meters a second, it would place the launcher between 3.5 and 4.2 km from the target, well within the Kornet’s effective daytime range.

By comparing the video and imagery analysis of Al-Arish Airport, we concluded that the missile was launched from an elevated structure or a dirt berm southwest of the helicopter’s position, as can be see in the following map:

Analysis of the Missile against Helicopter in Al-Arish-Airport

Threat posed to aviation from proliferation of ATGMs

The attack does not represent a precedent, but rather serves as an opportunity to highlight the threat posed to aviation from the proliferation of ATGMs in the hands of numerous militant groups in multiple countries. Several accounts of ATGMs being fired against aircraft were recorded in recent years, including successfully targeting aircraft in flight, with the most prominent example being the downing of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) helicopter by Hezbollah in Lebanon on August 12, 2006. This is especially important as this threat is often overlooked in comparison to the more well known threat posed by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

While MANPADS pose a more prominent threat to aircraft, as they were designed with the specific goal of targeting aircraft, they have several shortcomings compared to ATGMs. These mainly include being more delicate, having parts with short shelf lives, requiring greater expertise and training to successfully operate, and being more rare. ATGMs still require expertise and training, although less than MANPADS, and are generally more durable and can be sustained for operations over longer time and in harsher conditions. Most importantly however, ATGMs are significantly more common than MANPADS, and with the destabilization of countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, thousands of these systems, of different generations and capabilities, were taken away from military storage and ended in the hands of militant groups across the world. This is in addition to illegal purchases through stable countries that do not adhere to international norms, such as Belarus and North Korea.

As noted, ATGMs were not designed primarily to hit aircraft and therefore do not excel in it, however, the features for which they were designed, namely attacking a comparatively slow moving target, still make them effective weapons against aircraft. This is mostly relevant during the takeoff and landing stages of both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, when these are most vulnerable due to their low speed and altitude. In addition, while there are several options of countermeasures against MANPADS that can be used by civil aircraft, countermeasures against ATGMs are fewer, and often involve explosives, making them currently non-optional for civil aircraft.

An additional weakness exposed in the recent attack is the dependency on local security forces and their protocols, which can often be low in standard. The attack occurred in a region currently undergoing prolonged and high intensity militant activity, in a city that was hit by the most attacks in the region in recent months. Despite this fact, the VIPs were flown in a distinct helicopter that draws attention, the airport lacks even basic and cheap means in place that may disrupt or prevent a missile attack, such as walls that would block line of sight into the airport, or metal nets that would negate the missile’s shaped charge mechanism. All of these expose the weaknesses of local security protocols, which were a direct factor in the attack.

Recommendations

The threat of ATGMs should be considered as a potential factor while conducting risk and vulnerability surveys, particularly in unstable regions.

Prior to conducting aerial activity in countries with known militant activity, contact us at [email protected] to consult on the possible threat posed by relevant militant groups’ weapons and capabilities and ways to mitigate these.

Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for security surveys of airports.

How Egypt’s new militant group will impact the threat landscape – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On November 3, a previously unknown militant group, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, claimed responsibility for an October 20 attack in western Egypt’s Bahariya Oasis, in which reports state at least 55 security forces personnel were killed during a raid operation targeting a militant base.

In its claim of responsibility, the group introduces itself to the Egyptian public, denouncing Egyptian leadership for its treatment of the populace. The group states that the October 20 attack, which it describes in specific detail, marks the commencement of its “jihad” against government and military authorities in Egypt and proclaims itself to be a group that has exercised a “divine patience.”

The organization memorializes one of its leaders, Emad al-Din Ahmed, a former military officer who became a jihadist, who was killed during a counter-militancy operation on October 31, which included ground raids and airstrikes in a mountainous area near al-Wahat Road, west of Fayoum. Ahmed is reported to have been a deputy of Hesham al-Ashmawy, an al-Qaeda member reportedly operating in the eastern Libya city of Derna, who along with Ahmed had been forced from the Egyptian military’s ranks for professing alleged extremist Islamic beliefs.

The group stated that it freed security forces’ personnel who were kidnapped during the Bahariya Oasis attack, after lecturing them on the principles of Islam, and explaining that Egypt’s leadership is an enemy of the faith. Previous reports had stated that a police officer who had been kidnapped during the October 20 incident was freed during the October 31 operation.

The group appeals to the Egyptian public, asking the country’s citizens to provide Jamaat Ansar al-Islam with various types of support, urging them to join the group’s ranks, as well as sponsor the group financially.

How Egypt's new militant group will impact the threat landscape - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

While Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is a previously unknown group, the claim of responsibility for the attack is likely credible. Although the Islamic State (IS) maintains a significant presence in the Western Desert where the attack occurred, the organization did not claim the attack, even mentioning it in its monthly literature without taking credit for it. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is widely reported as linked to al-Qaeda, and several indications support such an affiliation. Following the Bahariya Oasis incident, numerous al-Qaeda online profiles on jihadist channels publicized and praised the attack, while Ahmed’s reported association with the al-Qaeda-loyal Ashmawy would lend credence to the al-Qaeda affiliation. The claim of responsibility’s graphics and wording also resemble those of other al-Qaeda affiliates. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s announcement corresponds to al-Qaeda’s overall strategy of encouraging its affiliates to pursue local-specific goals, in this case to damage Egyptian leadership for its alleged mistreatment of Egypt’s population, as well as its perceived status as an enemy of Islam. IS, in contrast, targets these same interests, but rather for the purpose of destabilizing the state in order to advance the spread of an Islamic caliphate.

The emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Egypt is highly notable in its own right, as the Sunni jihadist group has not maintained an active presence in the country in recent years. This group’s self-introduction comes amidst IS’s sustained territorial losses yielded in Syria and Iraq, where it only maintains control of a few swaths of land. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam likely chose to reveal its existence at this particular time to present itself an attractive alternative for IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq, as IS is increasingly seen as on the decline. The significant length of time that passed before Jamaat Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack and unveiled itself as a group is likely due to communications difficulties with al-Qaeda’s central organization, particularly given the group’s presence in Egypt’s remote Western Desert, and that it is a new organization likely in the initial stages of establishing these contacts and communications capabilities. However, this could have been intentional, as the group may have waited to announce its existence to maintain a low profile and avoid drawing authorities’ attention and thus allow its militants to regroup.

As seen in the group’s eulogizing of one of its commanders who had been an officer in the Egyptian military, Ahmed most likely maintained connections with members of the military sympathetic to Islamist militancy, who given the success of the October 20 attack, likely informed the militants that the raid was to take place in advance. This would bolster our previous assessment that the militants likely had prior intelligence of the security operation’s launching from informants within the security forces. Furthermore, while the size of the group’s personnel has not been established as of yet, it displayed high capabilities during the Bahariya Oasis attack, which were likely enhanced by former military officers such as Ahmed. This was witnessed in the group’s strategically entrenched positions during the ambush, which included directing RPG and heavy gunfire from higher ground at both the front and rear of the security convoy, which significantly immobilized its personnel, as well as in the detonation of IEDs that followed. This complex multi-pronged attack, including the use of explosives, displayed high sophistication in both method and technical expertise, and the group’s remaining members likely retain these capabilities and knowledge.

Given Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s likely affiliation with al-Qaeda, as well as its operations in Egypt’s Western Desert, the group most likely maintains ties with the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD), which is based across the border in Derna. The MSCD militia coalition’s largest faction, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, is aligned with al-Qaeda. Jamaat al-Islam is likely to cooperate with the MSCD towards damaging shared enemies including Egyptian leadership, as well as Cairo’s Libyan ally, the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose dominion extends over much of eastern Libya. Such cooperation will likely include the exchange of weaponry and supplies across the border, as well as personnel on some occasions.

FORECAST: The group’s claim of responsibility will likely prompt a competition amongst militant groups operating in Egypt for manpower, prestige, and legitimacy. In response to Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s announcement, IS and disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups are now likely further motivated to conduct attacks in order to continue to convince Egyptians to join and support them rather than defect to this new organization, raising the potential for attacks in mainland Egypt at this this time. In terms of recruitment and manpower, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s call for jihadist-style militancy against Egyptian authorities would appeal to those in line with IS’s doctrine, while the specific local aims of the group to attack Egypt’s leadership for its alleged maltreatment of Egyptians would attract those of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, including more radical elements part of groups such as the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra. Al-Qaeda has also attempted in the past to establish such relationships with disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militants. Furthermore, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam likely utilized a recent downtick in activity by both IS and disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups in mainland Egypt in recent weeks to portray itself as strong relative to these other organizations in an attempt to gain support.

FORECAST: In response, Egyptian authorities will prosecute further security raids and direct Egyptian Air Force (EAF) airstrikes targeting the group in Egypt’s Western Desert, aimed in part at preventing Jamaat Ansar al-Islam from strengthening itself through any cooperation with the MSCD and smugglers across the border in Libya. Towards this end, Cairo will likely heighten coordination with the LNA, and in some instances, as seen on May 26 and on a few occasions afterwards, will likely order EAF airstrikes against the MSCD in Derna. Furthermore, Egyptian authorities will seek to identify and arrest militant informers likely maintained by the new group within the military and security services. However, given the challenges inherent in policing the extensive Western Desert and its expansive international borders, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam will likely continue to operate there and will attempt to perpetrate further attacks. Furthermore, it remains possible that the group maintains personnel in other areas of Egypt, including in more heavily-populated areas in its interior cities, which would also be targeted by security forces.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

 

 

Read more reports in our security blog

Why the July 7 large-scale attack by the Islamic State in North Sinai is likely an effort to challenge regional & local setbacks – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

A large scale and multi-pronged attack by the Islamic State (IS), involving at least two suicide vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIED) followed by a ground assault targeted a military checkpoint near the North Sinai village of al-Barth, located approximately 30km south of Rafah, during the morning hours of July 7. According to the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Spokesperson, 26 casualties were inflicted on the Egyptian military, including the killing of one Colonel, while at least 40 militants from the IS-affiliated Wilayat Sinai were killed and six of their vehicles destroyed in the attack.

Why the July 7 large-scale attack by the Islamic State in North Sinai is likely an effort to challenge regional & local setbacks - Egypt Analysis | MAX SecurityClick here to see Map Legend 

Assessments & Forecast

While attacks by Wilayat Sinai in North Sinai, particularly the triangle area between al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid which is the group’s main area of operation, are common, this recent attack is highly notable due to its large scale, sophistication, and reports that it resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. This is compared to the more frequent, near-daily attacks in the area that largely include small arms fire and IEDs, have a more limited effect, and result in smaller numbers of casualties. In this context, while Wilayat Sinai continues to conduct offensive operations in North Sinai at a high frequency, the scope and volume of its activities had significantly decreased in recent months. Furthermore, while previously the group had conducted attacks outside of its primary area of operations in North Sinai on a regular basis including several times of a month, the last such attack took place in South Sinai’s Saint Catherine’s Monastery on April 18-19, and before that in Mount Halal on March 23, highlighting a continued decrease.


Why the July 7 large-scale attack by the Islamic State in North Sinai is likely an effort to challenge regional & local setbacks - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

As such, the reasons for the decline in Wilayat Sinai’s scope and volume of activities is likely the result of regional and local developments relating to the Sunni jihadist group. Regionally, as the central organization is continuing to face defeats in Syria and Iraq, it is likely facing more difficulties in lending an active support for its affiliate in North Sinai. Locally, following the October 14, 2016, Wilayat Sinai’s attack on the Zakdan Checkpoint, Egyptian security forces had changed their strategy regarding counter-militancy operations in North Sinai. This entailed a change of focus away from combating the militant group at its “front lines” in the primary area of operations, which did result in killing militants but not in a substantial effect on the group’s overall capabilities. Instead, the focus was turned to the group’s logistic infrastructure such as tunnels, smuggling routes and hideouts and weapons caches in the Central Sinai mountains, which created a more long-term damage and one that is harder to recover from.

Additionally, the attack comes amidst rapprochement talks between the Egyptian government and the Gaza-based Hamas organization, which also include the creation of a buffer zone between Gaza and North Sinai, thus further challenging cross-border activity which benefits Wilayat Sinai and friendly Gaza based-Salafi organizations which are opposed to Hamas. Furthermore, following April 17 when IS prevented a cigarette smuggling operation by members of the Tarabin Tribe, one of the peninsula’s largest and most powerful tribes, parts of the Tarabin tribe, along with later members of the Sawarka Tribe, initiated operations against the militant group, both in their own independent militias, as well as in support of the EAAF. This has likely caused damage to Wilayat Sinai, as it heavily relies on the local population in the region to ensure its freedom of operation.

As such, while the recent attack serves as an indication that Wilayat Sinai still retains significant capabilities that allows it the mount such a large-scale operation, the attack was likely motivated by the aforementioned hardships the group is facing, regionally and locally, and may be the result of perceived despair. In this context, by conducting such a high-profile attack, the group likely seeks to highlight that it is still a viable threat. Moreover, it likely seeks to hinder and deter further counter-militancy operations in North Sinai, by leveraging the civilian population to pressure the government that the investment in North Sinai is not worth the high numbers of casualties caused by it.

If this strategy succeeds, it may allow Wilayat Sinai to at least partially rehabilitate its lost infrastructure and freedom of operation, however at the time of writing, it has low likelihoods of success. FORECAST: Taken as a whole, additional frequent limited-scale attacks by Wilayat Sinai are liable to occur in the al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid-Rafah triangle area over the coming days and weeks, along with possible larger scale and higher profile attacks in this and other areas in the Sinai Peninsula, however at a significantly reduced rate. Furthermore, Egyptian authorities will likely increase their operations in North Sinai over the coming hours and days, to retaliate against the attack and portray an image to its citizenry that they were able to significantly damage the militant group, thus offsetting any arguments against operations in the peninsula.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations. Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk of militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats. As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

 

Read more posts like this in Max security blog

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region – Middle East & N. Africa Analysis

Current Situation

During the morning hours of June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced the cutting of all diplomatic ties with Qatar.  The Hadi-led government in Yemen, as well as Libya’s anti-Islamist House of Representatives (HoR) similarly announced the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar on the same day. The first four countries issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Qatari diplomats to evacuate their respective nations, while similarly issuing an ultimatum to all other Qatari citizens to leave within two weeks. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced that they had closed their airspace for Qatari aircrafts, and that all flights by airliners from these countries to Qatar were suspended. Qatari naval vessels will also not be allowed to use the countries’ seaports to anchor, while land travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be limited to non-Qatari nationals only.

Additional measures implemented against Qatar include the expelling of the country from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and its anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition in Syria. These measures were implemented based on accusations that Qatar is “supporting and financing extremist groups” across the region, as well as encouraging sectarianism and subversive elements operating in the abovementioned countries. Meanwhile, Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the accusations are “absolute fabrications” and “proves that there are premeditated intentions to cause damage to Qatar”.

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region - Middle East & N. Africa Analysis | MAX Security
Map of countries affected by travel restrictions on Qataris

Assessments & Forecast

Severing ties may hurt Qatar economically, push its policy towards more pro-Iranian approach; limited impact on regional conflicts

While the new development is unlikely to have any effect on Qatar’s and any of the other impacted countries’ security conditions in the short term, we assess that this measure may lead to multiple local and regional ramifications over the coming months. For instance, approximately 90 percent of Qatar’s imports of food products are transferred through land from Saudi Arabia. Thus, in light of the border closure between the two countries, Doha will likely be forced to divert a large amount of resources in developing its maritime trade, including in the form of improving its seaport infrastructure, as now its imports via sea are liable to be enhanced significantly. Moreover, given the high-profile nature of the event, there remains a possibility that the turn of events will impact global markets, and particularly the oil sector, as it may be perceived as a source of instability across this oil-rich region.

These new developments may also impact expatriates, including Westerners operating in Qatar and the GCC, particularly given the suspension of flights between the GCC countries and Qatar and the closure of the land border with Saudi Arabia. In light of the likely increase in logistical difficulties in traveling between Qatar and the above-mentioned countries, exacted upon expatriates by the measures, it is likely to damage Qatar’s national economy. Though the impact on GCC residents seeking to enter Qatar is yet to be determined, it cannot be ruled out that Qatar will implement punitive measures and ban GCC citizens and residents from entering the country.

The partial isolation of Qatar may affect several conflicts and political rivalries across the region. With regards to Iran, Doha is liable to improve its bilateral relations and economic ties with Tehran, as now Qatar would be compelled to compensate for its political and economic setback. Moreover, in Yemen, in the short-term, Qatar’s absence from the Saudi-led coalition may slightly reduce the latter’s on-the-ground capabilities in fighting against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis. However, given Qatar’s already limited role in the coalition, as well as the aforementioned arms deal with the US, in the medium to long-term the Saudi-led coalitions is unlikely to be significantly impacted by Qatar’s absence from the coalition.

In Syria, in light of the already heightened internal divisions between rebel factions, it remains possible that this new development will further exacerbate tensions between rebel groups supported by Qatar on one side, and factions backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Should the event indeed lead to an economic recession in Qatar, their supported factions on-the ground would suffer from a shortage of resources, thus forcing them to disband or merge into other factions. With this in mind, should scenarios eventually materialize, it would potentially tip the scale towards the pro-government forces in the Syrian conflict.

In Libya, the development may constitute a boost to the HoR and its allied Libyan National Army (LNA), given their conflict with the pro-Islamist General National Congress (GNC) and its affiliated militias, which are partially supported by Qatar. That said, Qatar’s direct involvement in this conflict has significantly waned in recent years, particularly since the March 2016 arrival of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to the designated capital of Tripoli, and therefore any implications on the conflict will remain limited.

Cutting ties with Qatar likely linked to global, regional developments involving Iran, new US administration

Today’s development comes amidst years of tensions between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt on one side, and Qatar on the other, surrounding multiple issues, chiefly the latter’s alleged direct involvement in the internal affairs of countries throughout the region. This is particularly relevant to Qatar’s long-standing support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked political elements across the Middle East and North Africa, as the countries in this Saudi-led alliance view the Islamist organization is a subversive element and a threat to their respective governments. Additional contentious issue include Qatar’s overall positive relations with Iran, as opposed to that of the other Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), with the exception of Oman, which remain strong adversaries of Tehran. This is highlighted by numerous past economic agreements between Tehran and Doha in recent years, such as the agreement from February 2014 to create a joint free trade and economic zones between the two countries. A further issue that contributed to the strained relations with Qatar throughout the years is the cooperation of the Qatari-based news outlet al-Jazeera, which had been accused by the aforementioned countries of attempting to undermine their, as well as their regional allies’, governments.

That said, despite these strained relations, Qatar and the other GCC countries’ relations can be characterized over the past several years by intermittent escalation and rapprochement between the sides. For instance, on December 9, 2014, Qatar agreed as part of a GCC summit, to establish a regional police force in order to improve coordination regarding drug trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime, as well as announced its “full support to al-Sisi-led government in Egypt”. This followed Saudi officials’ March 9, 2014 threats to impose sanctions against Qatar, including in the form of sea blockade, in light of Doha’s persistent support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements across the region. However, the complete cutting of diplomatic relations between the aforementioned Saudi-aligned countries is highly notable given its wide scale and scope, as it includes significant restrictions on Qatar and its citizens.

We assess that this escalation is linked to global and regional geo-political developments, largely with regards to Iran and the new Donald Trump administration in the US. With this in mind, in recent years, under the Obama administration, relations between Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side, and Washington on the other, were oftentimes strained due to the US’ perceived efforts to approach Tehran, which was likely viewed by Riyadh as coming at its expense. In light of the aforementioned normal relations between Qatar and Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries were likely felt compelled to prevent Qatar from approaching the Islamic Republic too much, as this would have significantly undermined their sense of security and regional interest.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, Washington increased its anti-Iranian rhetoric, while at the same time strengthened its ties with Saudi Arabia. This is highlighted by the May 15 UAE-US defense agreement, as well as the 350 Billion USD agreement between Riyadh and Washington involving an arms deal, and Saudi investments in the US. Thus, there remains a potential that the recent visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia in late May, as well as the US’ growing support for Saudi Arabia and its allies, motivated the Kingdom to implement these measures, as part of the shared interest with the US in tackling Iran and its allies’ influence throughout the region. With this in mind, given Saudi Arabia’s decreasing need for Qatar’s cooperation on security and political support amidst the ongoing rivalry with Shiite Iran, it is likely that Saudi Arabia assessed that it is no longer obligated to maintain positive bilateral relations with Qatar, prompting this development.

The development comes amidst a diminishing political influence of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization across the Middle East and North Africa over the past two years. In this context, it remains possible that Saudi Arabia no longer felt compelled to maintain good relations with Qatar, following the reduction of the threat stemming from the Muslim Brotherhood, as opposed to previous Saudi attempts to pressure Qatar to abandon their support for the Islamist organization in return for the improvement of relations with the other GCC countries.

Recommendations

Travel to Qatar may continue as normal while adhering to cultural norms and avoiding making any statements critical of the Qatari Emir and government officials, despite the aforementioned new restrictions. That being said, those operating in Qatar over the coming days and weeks are advised to stock up on food and basic products, due to the possibility that these will be in shortage due to the declared measures. Those operating throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and particularly in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar are advised to remain cognizant of developments and potential effects on travel and business continuity given the current lack of full information regarding the various restrictions that will be in effect. This is particularly relevant for the possibility of unexpected border closures between the relevant countries over the coming days and weeks.

 

This report was written by:
Asaf Day – MAX Security’s Senior Intelligence Manager, Middle East & North Africa

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups – Egypt Analysis

Executive Summary:

Of the several militant groups that operate in mainland Egypt, the two most active ones currently are the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra, both composed of disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood elements.
While these are overtly two separate entities, there are many similarities between the groups that point to a joint origin, as well as possibly ongoing cooperation.
Regardless, both groups proved to be of high and growing capabilities, and are thus likely to attempt to continually expand their operations throughout mainland Egypt and conduct more sophisticated attacks targeting governmental locales, individuals perceived to be associated with the government, as well as security forces.
Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Ideology & Goals of Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood Groups

Both the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra subscribe in essence to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, and set as an objective to remove the “regime of the military coup” and replace it with what they perceive as the democratically elected and legitimate Muslim Brotherhood-led government, similar to the model of the June 2012-July 2013 government.
However, one distinct difference between these groups and the current official Muslim Brotherhood leadership is the approach towards the application of violence. While the official stance of the current leadership of the Brotherhood movement is that it should be a “peaceful and democratic organization”, the approach of the militant groups is to sanction measured violence in the context of achieving the political movement’s overall objectives.
In this context, while given the organizations’ structures and their opaqueness, the characteristics of the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the militant groups remain unclear, there are two likely possibilities, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
First, the dichotomy could be a manifestation of an internal struggle between an “old guard” that adheres to the guidelines of avoiding the use of deadly force, and a “new guard” that grew frustrated with the perceived inability to achieve the political goals strictly using non-violent means, prompting it to change strategies.
The second option is that the disconnect between the political movement and the various militant groups is maintained at an overt level only, in order to avoid causing a delegitimization of the whole Muslim Brotherhood movement. However, in this scenario, there would be at least a limited covert direct communication and subordination system. Should this be the case, it would mean that the entities in effect serve as a political and military wing of the organization, even if this structure is only accepted by parts of the overall movement.

Strategy & Evolution

Naturally, both Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra’s modus operandi and target selection are derived from their ideology and strategic goals. The militant groups target government facilities and personnel perceived to be associated with the government, as well as members of the judiciary. This is due to the perception that they are an integral part of the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, given their role in sentencing members of the group to prolonged incarcerations and even to death. Additionally, the main target of attacks are member of security forces, as they are perceived as those executing the will of the “illegitimate regime”, and are the main operational threat posed to the militant groups.
As a result of this, the groups are less likely to target Westerners, Western institutes and strategic facilities. The main reason for this is that their vision is to ultimately restore complete control over Egypt while causing as little damage to its infrastructure and core as possible, as they will need these elements, along with foreign tourism and investment, to more easily govern the state in the future. That said, it cannot be ruled out that the radicalization process that caused their creation will persist should the groups fail to reach their objectives, prompting them to conduct high profile attacks and attacks against soft targets out of desperation, however this remains a remote possibility at this time. Nonetheless, despite currently discreetly targeting state actors and attempting to avoid civilian casualties, some of the attacks by the groups caused collateral damage, thus indicating that they are willing to accept causing at least limited civilian casualties in order to achieve their goals.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

Furthermore, both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra’s capabilities were relatively high to start, as shown by their own published videos depicting their training, as well as by their attacks which at times are aimed at high-value targets. This is further indicated by the claims of responsibility for these attacks, depicting mostly advanced surveillance and intelligence collection techniques, as well as tactical proficiency. This itself serves as an indication that members of the group have previous training and experience, which may be due to previous membership in now defunct militant groups, such as Popular Resistance in Giza, Revolutionary Punishment, or even Ajnad Misr. This may also indicate that the groups have attracted former members of the security establishment, who became disillusioned with the state of affairs of post-revolution Egypt, and applied their skills in the ranks of these militant groups.
Additionally, while both groups showed relative high capabilities since inception in July-August 2016, these have continued to progress with time, from very limited scale operations such as assassinations, to larger scale and more sophisticated attacks, such as vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs). While Hasam is the slightly more veteran of the groups, the fact that the development in capabilities of both groups overlapped may serve as an indication of direct cooperation.

 Links between Hasam & Liwaa al-Thawra

In addition to the aforementioned, media publications by both groups highlight the similarities and connections between them:
Videos issued by the respective groups show emphasis on similar tactics and using similar techniques: Assassinations, drive-by shootings, IED making, assembly and activation, firing ranges with small arms fire and shoulder fired rocket launchers, small unit tactics- including combined and coordinated attacks by several small forces.
Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Shooting range and sentry takedown training by Hasam (left) and Liwaa al-Thawra (right)

 

Moreover, and in addition to the aforementioned similarities in modus operandi of the attacks themselves, the claims of responsibility by the respective groups use similar graphics and put an emphasis on the intelligence collection and surveillance element prior to conducting the mission, as well as of the battle damage assessment phase after the attack is conducted.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Photo reports of attacks issued by Hasam (left) and Liwaa al-Thawra (right)

 

Furthermore, while never issuing a joint statement thus far, following the December 11, 2016 suicide bombing in a Coptic church in Cairo which was later claimed by the Islamic State (IS), both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra issued separate statements condemning the attack less than 15 minutes apart. Both statements used similar rhetoric, offering condolences to the victims and their families, stating that targeting “innocent Egyptians” should not be accepted, and that the only legitimate targets are those associated with the “corrupt government”.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Statements issued by Hasam (top) and Liwaa al-Thawra (bottom) condemning the December 2016 suicide bombing of a Coptic church in Cairo.

 

Lastly, following two of the overall three attacks conducted thus far by Liwaa al-Thawra, the Hasam Movement issued congratulatory messages through their official media branch, affirming the positive connections between the groups.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Hasam’s congratulates Liwaa al-Thawra’s on assassination of a Brigadier General near Cairo

 

Future Projections

Previous attacks conducted by both of the groups show that they are not constrained to a specific area of the mainland, and have the ability to operate throughout large parts of it. As the respective groups are likely not large, given the still relative low frequency of their attacks, this is a further indication of their operational capabilities. As a result, regional cells are probably dispatched between different locales to attack notable targets, in likely addition to local cells capitalizing on coincidences to attack targets of opportunity which are typically of lesser quality. This would also account for the large number of attacks in and around Cairo, due to the city’s significance and the fact that it offers more quality targets.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

As the at least positive connection, and at most direct cooperation between Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra had been affirmed, it remains possible that the two groups made a conscious decision, or were directed by a possible higher level leadership to remain separate. Such a conduct would reduce the risks posed to either of the groups in case cells of a different group are compromised, as information extracted from these will not threaten fighters, assets and plans of the other group. Such procedures and protocols increase the likelihood of survivability of each group, and significantly reduce the potential that they both will be fully eliminated, at least within close time proximity.
The element of survivability had proven to be vital for both groups given their limited sizes and resources. Similarly, the fluctuations in their activities, along with the spread of their operations can also be associated with reducing their profile in order to evade the high intensity security operations waged against both groups. Thus, militants will go into hiding or completely escape the area, wait until immediate ramifications by security forces expire, or will exploit a weakness in their system, and then resume offensive operations.
While such operations witnessed successes, killing militants from both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawras in actions that were confirmed by the respective groups, the fact that the groups remain operational and even have expanded their operations is a testament to their overall high capabilities. With this in mind, while both groups may alternately limit their operations, particularly given the ongoing nationwide state of emergency, overall they are liable to seek to further expand their operations by conducting more notable attacks against high profile targets over the coming months. While security forces may foil some of these operations, given precedent at least some of these are likely to successful materialize. Furthermore, despite this desire to expand, both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra remain small in size and limited in resources, and given their proven experience and proficiency will be cautious of overstretching and overexposing themselves, thus any possible expansion in operation is liable to be measured.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

Sinai Bedouins: A Regime Gambit against Islamic State in Egypt?

Sinai Bedouins: A Regime Gambit against Islamic State in Egypt?

Recently, media outlets throughout Egypt raved about the creation of a new paramilitary force in the Sinai Peninsula meant to help the Egyptian Armed Forces tackle the growing security threat of the Islamic State’s Wilayat Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis). This new force allegedly united 30 Bedouin tribes on May 10, to form the “Sinai Tribal Federation”, or STF, and was meant to provide volunteer intelligence about the militant group’s activities.

The creation of the STF was preceded by several acts of animosity between Wilayat Sinai and mainly members of the Tarabin tribe, including localized harassment, and tit-for-tat killings of militants and tribesman. These every-day run-ins gradually escalated, causing the Tarabin tribe to stage a large scale raid on a Wilayat Sinai stronghold south of Sheikh Zuweid on April 26, as well as to issue a one million Egyptian Pound (EGP) bounty for the killing of Wilayat Sinai’s leader, Shady al-Meneiey, who may have fled to Gaza. On the day of the STF’s creation, Wilayat Sinai kidnapped, raped, and beheaded a woman of the Tarabin tribe, leaving her body with a warning against any cooperation with the Egyptian regime.

Despite sensational media reports subsequently heralding the end of the troubles in the Sinai Peninsula, the STF had very little actual effect on the ground as of yet, and is expected to have even less in the future. Throughout the two months that have passed since its formation, the STF has had only one direct confrontation with Wilayat Sinai, when on May 23 it arrested three militants carrying weapons and explosives, and turned them into police custody. While it is true that the force was meant less to carry the everyday burden of counter-militancy operations in the Sinai Peninsula, and more to provide quality intelligence information by covert means, results on the ground bring into question whether there were any contributions in this field as well.

For example, during the night of June 9-10, members of Wilayat Sinai were able to bombard the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) airfield in El Gorah with mortar shells and surface-to-surface rockets. Despite the attack not being particularly impactful, it represented an escalation in the group’s activities by directly attacking a multinational force in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as an increase in its capabilities, as it was the first time that it deployed rockets in an attack against targets on Sinai soil. This latter point, combined with reports of a possible infiltration from Gaza the night before, affirms that the group is still able to move across the Sinai-Gaza border to bring men and material. All this combined points very clearly to a massive failure on the strategic intelligence level, of which the STF was deemed to be a major pillar.

With this in mind, Bedouin-army and Bedouin-militant relationships in the Sinai Peninsula are likely based more on personal interests and tribal cost-benefit analysis, rather than on any ideological reasons. These tribal interests are derived from a number of factors that can lead tribes to support either the military or militants such as Wilayat Sinai. This includes on the one hand, a long period of mistreatment of the Bedouins by the current Egyptian regime (and its similar predecessor), while additionally, tribes may fear that opposing the militants will risk the tribe’s safety and means of livelihood. On the other hand, tribes such as the Terabin hold ongoing blood feuds with militants, while smuggling activities upon which they depend have been threatened by Wilayat Sinai’s activities.

As a result, while it is possible that additional low-scale, or passive resistance to Wilayat Sinai exists among the Bedouin tribes, the general animosity towards the regime is probably higher, leading the locals to support the militants. This trend is expected to continue, unless the Egyptian regime will be able to significantly change the local Bedouins view of it, and therefore be able to recruit their support. That said, such a change will likely require years and significant governmental reforms in order to be successful, with little impact expected in the immediate time frame. Until that time, the Egyptian government will likely continue to find it increasingly difficult to counter Wilayat Sinai’s momentum through the STF.

Oded Berkowitz is a senior intelligence analyst at MAX security, specializing in the North African region. Oded holds a B.A in Political Science and Middle Eastern StudIes and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security, while also serving as an infantry captain in the Israel Defense Forces.