Tag Archives: security forces

Senegalese security forces dismantle militant cell linked to Katiba Macina in Senegal’s Kidira, bordering Mali – Sahel Situation Update

Executive Summary

  • The reported dismantling of a militant cell within Senegal and a UN report on the presence of jihadists in the country embodies the risk of militancy spilling over into the coastal countries from the ongoing insurgency in Burkina Faso and Mali.
  • While these reports are plausible due to an increasing entrenchment of militants in Mali’s Kayes Region, which borders Senegal, it is likely that the jihadist encroachment into Senegal, if present, is nascent.
  • However, in the absence of decisive counter-militancy operations and as militants solidify their hold over Mali’s Kayes Region, the jihadist presence in Senegal is likely to grow, though it may be a slow-moving process. This is likely to manifest as an exploitation of grievances to create tensions and facilitate recruitment as well as attempts to entrench themselves.
  • The Senegalese government is likely to scale up the military presence along its border with Mali and may also attempt to establish lines of communication with Mali and Mauritania to facilitate a regional coordinated response.

Please be advised

Across the region, the following notable incidents have been reported:

 

Mali

Map # Region Cercle Locale Date Description
1 Timbuktu Timbuktu Ber February 6 At least 10 wounded including women, children as vehicle hits IED
2 Timbuktu Gourma-Rharos Tinwoussouk February 8 15 militants killed, 22 motorbikes destroyed by Barkhane strike
3 Sikasso Kolondieba Kolondieba February 8 Several police officers injured as armed men arrived on motorcycles, opened fire, attacked the police station while shouting “Allahu Akbar”

 

Burkina Faso

Map # Region Province Locale Date Description
4 Sahel Seno Dori February 1-7 Security Forces carry out operations with air support to secure markets, places of worship

 

Senegal

Map # Region Department Locale Date Description
5 Tambacounda Bakel Kidira January 20-22 Three alleged members of “sleeper militant cell” linked to Katiba Macina arrested, authorities seized several cell phones

Notable Developments

  • Reports indicate that Ivory Coast’s government spokesperson stated that the authorities are maintaining permanent vigilance in response to the French revealing on February 1 that Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leadership held a meeting in February 2020 to discuss expansion into Gulf of Guinea countries.
  • Reports indicate that Burkinabe PM Christophe Dabire stated that the government was not against negotiating with jihadists in response to a question in Parliament on February 4.
  • The 27th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning Islamic State and al-Qaeda to the UN Security Council (UNSC), published on February 3, mentions the encroachment of JNIM elements, backed by “radical Islamic influencers,” into Senegal. The report specifically mentions Bakel in the Tambacounda Region, Ferlo Reserve in the Matam Region, and the gold-extraction areas of Saraya in the Kedougou Region.

Assessments & Forecast

  1. Sahelian militant groups’ intent to extend their operational theater across borders into the coastal states is well-documented, with the French releasing information about a meeting between JNIM and AQIM leadership to purportedly discuss expansion into the Gulf of Guinea countries. Militant chatter, their past attacks, and areas of entrenchment in Burkina Faso suggested that the risk of militant spillover was particularly elevated for Benin and Ivory Coast, resulting in much of the discourse around this issue is focused on these two countries. However, while there is a very present and heightened risk of militant activity in northern Benin and Ivory Coast, they are by no means the only countries at risk. The proliferation of militancy within the Sahelian countries over the past year has raised the threat of jihadism encroaching into other bordering countries as well, as embodied by reports of jihadists being present in Senegal.
  2. The marked increase in militant activity in Mali’s Kayes Region, which borders Senegal, in the past year with JNIM claiming attacks in January and February 2020 not only highlighted the breadth and scope of JNIM’s operations within Mali but also elevated the threat of militants crossing over into Senegal. To that point, JNIM affiliate Katiba Macina leader Amadou Kouffa’s call to the Fulani in West Africa, including Senegal, to embrace jihad and the establishment of Katiba Macina cells a few hundred kilometers from the Senegalese border in the Kayes Region as per reports on November 2020 do somewhat support the UN’s assertion of jihadist presence in Senegal. That said, there have been no reports of overt militant activity in the country over the past year, which suggests that any jihadist encroachment into the country is in its initial stages and makes it unlikely that there is significant jihadist presence in the locations mentioned in the UN report, which span Senegal’s eastern border. While it is not entirely implausible that militants have been covertly infiltrating and setting up cells across eastern Senegal, it is more far more likely that the jihadists may have dispatched recruiters and radical preachers to assess the potential for radicalization among the populace, particularly the Fulani, and judge the size of the recruit pool in the locations mentioned in the UN report.
  3. The report on the dismantling of the militant cell in Kidire, on the other hand, is far more plausible given its location on the border with Mali’s Kayes Region. It is prudent to note that the alleged militants were arrested on the basis of material on their cell phone that revealed that they belonged to groups on social media platforms advocating armed jihad and none of the reports note any weapons on their persons or at their homes, though it remains possible that this information has not been disclosed yet. Neither do the reports indicate any sign to suggest that this alleged “sleeper” cell was planning an attack imminently or even possesses the capabilities to launch an attack. This seems to suggest that if indeed it was a Katiba Macina cell, it was composed of newly radicalized members.
  4. While there is a very present risk of militant encroachment into Senegal and this risk is only going to heighten as the militants solidify their hold over Mali’s Kayes Region, based on the reports at this time, it seems like that their presence in Senegal is nascent. FORECAST: However, unless decisive counter-militancy actions are taken, the jihadist movement in Senegal is liable to grow over the coming year. Based on precedent, this encroachment is likely to manifest as the exploitation of socio-political and ethnic grievances to facilitate recruitment and create localized militant cells as well as attempts to enforce Sharia law and eliminate religious and state leadership at the local level to enable jihadist entrenchment. Eventually, once they gain a foothold, the jihadists are liable to expand their modus operandi to include small-scale attacks against security forces and other state symbols. This may be a slow-moving process that takes years, as is the case in Ivory Coast where there have been gradual signs of militant entrenchment with the militants conducting an attack in Savannes Region in June 2020 after years of militant presence across the border in Burkina Faso’s Cascades Region.
  5. Senegal started construction of a military camp in Goudiry, Tambacounda Region, as per reports in July 2020 and reportedly conducted capacity building operations to streamline cooperation among the Defense and Security Forces, gendarmes, police officers, and other officials in the area in November 2020. FORECAST: Following the publication of these reports, the government may reinforce security at the border. In addition, it is possible that the country will attempt to establish lines of cooperation and communication with Mali and Mauritania and try to work together to contain any spillover of jihadist elements over its borders. Finally, apart from martial measures, authorities in Senegal may follow Mauritania’s example and adopt some soft counter-militancy approaches, given the failure in Mali and Burkina Faso to combat the insurgency with military means alone.

Recommendations

  1. We advise against all travel to the border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, given the extreme risks of militancy, ethnic conflict, and violent crime.
  2. Avoid all travel to northern and central Mali, including Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Mopti, and northern Segou region, given the threat from militant and rebel groups operating in the area, as well as ongoing ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence.
  3. Avoid all travel to northern and eastern Burkina Faso, particularly Sahel, Est, Centre-Est, Nord, Centre-Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions due to the ongoing threat of militancy and violent crime. Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of the southern and western regions due to the increased risk of attacks.
  4. We advise against all travel to Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua Regions in the west along the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, with the exception of Niamey, due to the ongoing risk of militancy.

Far-right groups to continue successful radicalization and recruitment campaigns in 2021; raising the potential for attacks and unrest

Executive Summary:

  • While successful far-right militant attacks have decreased in 2020, Europe continues to see significant levels of radicalization.
  • A number of arrests and investigations have been made among law enforcement and security forces, as far-right extremists continue to attempt to gain access to training, weapons, and highly trained recruits.
  • Far-right extremists are capitalizing on COVID-19-related grievances, infiltrating anti-lockdown protests and rallies in an attempt to become more visible and push their agenda.
  • Radicalization among children and youth has seen a significant increase during COVID-19, as far-right groups target vulnerable individuals, both online and through physical events.
  • The development of transnational links among far-right groups across the region has heightened the risk of far-right militant attacks.
  • While extremist groups are increasingly likely to attempt large scale coordinated attacks and campaigns, radicalized lone wolf attackers are still more likely to succeed due to lesser surveillance.
  • Travel to Europe may continue while maintaining vigilance for militant-related activity.

Current situation

Notable Far-right Incidents in Europe

  • Europe has witnessed a number of notable incidents linked to the far-right in 2020:
  • On December 12, Austrian authorities seized dozens of weapons, explosives, and 100,000 rounds of ammunition that were intended to be used to set up an armed far-right extremist militia in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria. Five suspects were arrested in Austria and two in Bavaria.
  • On December 10, two individuals were arrested in Andalusia and Navarre in Spain for selling drugs to buy weapons to instigate a “future race war,” a focal point in white supremacist ideology.
  • On October 4, a Jewish student was seriously injured in an attack outside a synagogue in Hamburg. The assailant wore military-style clothing, similar to that of the German army. A note with a swastika was found in the suspect’s possession.
  • On February 19, eleven people were killed and five injured in a far-right attack at two shisha bars in HanauGermany. The perpetrator, Tobias Rathjen, published his manifesto online, purporting right-wing extremist views and expressing hatred for migrants.

Far-Right Radicalization in 2020

  • Far-right radicalization in Europe in 2020 has seen a shift in trends as a result of the COVID-19 pandemicSuch reports have found that far-right extremists are using the COVID-19 pandemic to purport conspiracy theories and disinformation on social media. Major theories have included the claim that COVID-19 is a bioweapon, that the pandemic was orchestrated to influence US politics, and that COVID-19 was created by Big Pharma to push a mass vaccination program. Central figures targeted by these theories have included George Soros and Bill Gates.  Moreover, the pandemic is being used to repurpose pre-existing extremist tropes as an opportunity to attack a range of minority communities. In addition to theories claiming that the virus was created by the “Jewish elite,” others claim that migrants brought COVID-19 to Europe, exacerbating existing anti-migrant sentiments.
  • In October, Germany released its first nationwide report on right-wing extremism in the security services, revealing hundreds of related incidents across the police and military. In total, there were 1,064 cases among military personnel and 370 incidents among police and intelligence officers between January 2017 and March 2020. On December 9, German intelligence agents in Baden-Wuerttemberg put the Querdenken 711 group, which has organized and participated in anti-lockdown protests, on a watch-list due to its links to far-right extremism and growing concerns regarding radicalization.
  • On December 5, Spain’s Defense Minister Margarita Robles called on the Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation on an online chat group in which retired military officials appeared to be disseminating far-right content, including support for military uprisings and mass executions
  • In December 2020, the UK released a report stating that a total of 17 under 18-year-olds have been arrested for militancy related charges between January and the end of September 2020, compared to 11 in 2019. The number of referrals of right-wing extremist content rose by 43 percent between 2019 and 2020. Nearly 1,500 children aged 15 and under have been identified as being at risk of radicalization. A total of 682 children were referred to the government’s counter-terrorism program over concerns about their involvement with the far-right in 2017-2018. The figure shows a five-fold increase since 2014-15. Of the 682 children, 24 were under the age of ten. In total, the government recorded 1,404 referrals related to right-wing radicalization, 62 percent of which were related to individuals under the age of 20.
  • In May, the Council of the European Union issued a report on far-right extremist groups exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to radicalize, recruit, and fundraise for their cause. Similar reports were issued by the United Nations in April.

Assessments & Forecast

Far-right groups are using COVID-19 to repurpose existing narratives and enter the mainstream 

  1. That far-right extremists are infiltrating anti-lockdown protests and rallies throughout Western Europe, as evidenced by extremists attending protests in Germany, Spain, and the UK, indicates such groups are taking advantage of COVID-19 related anxieties and grievances in the public to become more visible and push their agenda. This is evident by far-right groups criticizing COVID-19 restrictions, particularly reimposed lockdowns during the second wave of the pandemic, as well as concerns regarding COVID-19 vaccines, to undermine government officials.
  2. Considering that anti-lockdown protests have witnessed unrest, including clashes, these demonstrations present a threat to bystanders. Most notably, these anti-lockdown protests hold a high potential for radicalization. This was evident in the German region of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s decision to put the Querdenken 711 group under surveillance due to its ties to the far-right and increasing risk of radicalization.
  3. The dissemination of COVID-19-related conspiracy theories and disinformation online reiterates the continued use of online platforms by far-right extremists to purport their ideologies. That discussions of far-right conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 have surged, with one major social media platform seeing posts increase by 815 percent and another by 750 in March alone, further suggests far-right groups are capitalizing on public concerns. Given that many of these posts do not appear to be overtly far-right in nature, with a significant number focusing on lockdown measures and anti-government sentiments, the pandemic has allowed far-right extremists to increase their public base as well as their exposure, with the content being increasingly shared and normalized online. Further, far-right extremists globally are utilizing similar COVID-19-related conspiracy theories, allowing movements to form transnational links and share strategies.
  4. FORECAST: As lockdowns are eased, and countries begin to roll out mass vaccination programs, it is likely that far-right extremists will increase discourse on vaccinations, with disinformation and protests related to COVID-19 vaccines expected to increase. Governments are likely to increase surveillance among groups and forums sharing such information in the near term, as well as potentially restrict related protests and rallies, due to the potential for being hotbeds of radicalization.

 

Far-right extremist groups to increase membership base by appealing to vulnerable groups both online and through physical events 

  1. Reports by law enforcement agencies regarding increased radicalization among children and youth indicate that far-right extremists are utilizing various strategies aimed at recruiting children. In particular, online strategies, such as first-person shooting video games, videos, and online forums, are providing vulnerable individuals with a sense of belonging. Given that the pandemic has exacerbated grievances and led to an increase in internet usage, the risk for radicalization among vulnerable segments of the population has risen.
  2. The widespread use of remote teaching since March has resulted in less monitoring, both with regard to online activity and changes in behavior among youth. With that, the pandemic has not only increased the potential for radicalization but also the ability to monitor such activity. In the UK, the closures of schools and reductions in social care and mental health provision have led to a decrease in referrals to police about possible radicalization for the country’s PREVENT counter-terrorism program.
  3. In addition to online tactics, far-right extremist groups continue to focus on violent sports, particularly mixed martial arts (MMA), as well as music and music festivals. Given MMA’s general popularity, the far-right’s use of the sport offers an ideal recruitment tactic, with MMA events serving as fundraising and propaganda dissemination opportunities.
  4. Considering that these events, such as the white supremacist Shield and Sword MMA festival held in Ostritz, Germany, as well as music festivals regionwide, are often attended by individuals from multiple countries, they provide far-right groups with the possibility of forming transnational links.
  5. FORECAST: As COVID-19 related restrictions and concerns continue, far-right extremists are expected to focus primarily on online methods of radicalization, given the potential for events, such as MMA and music festivals, being canceled. Moreover, considering that remote learning is liable to continue for an extended period, it is likely that far-right groups will primarily focus on vulnerable youth.
  6. FORECAST: Additionally, far-right extremists are likely to utilize recent Islamist militant attacks in Austria and France as a way to increase anti-Islam and anti-Migrant sentiments, potentially attracting new members.

Radicalization in law enforcement and security forces likely to continue throughout Europe

  1. The instances of far-right activity within law enforcement and security forces, most notably in Germany, where security services recorded more than 1,400 cases of suspected far-right extremism in the three years as of March 2020, suggest far-right groups are attempting to infiltrate these forces.
  2. Reports indicate that individuals with far-right and nationalist views are often attracted to joining the police and armed forces, as they often see themselves as individuals able to “defend their communities”. Furthermore, many of the concepts common among far-right ideologies overlap with those often found within military structures, such as strong national identity and physical “superiority”. Consequently, the potential for radicalization is considerably higher among armed forces and security forces, given the presence that groups are able to recruit trained people. As such, it is possible that law enforcement screening for far-right sentiments is lacking.
  3. Additionally, it is likely that far-right extremists are infiltrating security forces in an attempt to gain access to tactical training and weapons. As such, the infiltration and radicalization within security forces present a significant threat, given the potential access to weapons.
  4. FORECAST: Instances related to far-right activity among security forces are likely to surface in the near term. Consequently, Western European countries are liable to increase surveillance among their law enforcement and security forces in an attempt to stifle concerns among the public. Potential raids and arrests, particularly in Austria and Germany, in suspected cases of far-right activity are likely.

Transnational links throughout the region to increase the potential for militant attacks

  1. The arrests in Austria and Bavaria highlight increasing transnational links among far-right groups. Considering that multiple far-right groups, including the Nordic Resistance Movement, have shared an interest in coordinating and focusing efforts on establishing transnational links, networks between far-right extremists are likely being developed. The fact that Austrian authorities seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition highlights how this increasing cooperation raises the risk of far-right militant attacks across the continent, particularly in Austria and Germany.
  2. The arrests of two German and one British national in Malaga, Spain in connection to an international arms ring reiterates ties between criminal and militant groups, as well as transnational links. Such links heighten the threat level for potential militant attacks, given that extremist groups have access to firearms and explosives necessary for staging attacks across the region.
  3. Additionally, the presence of youth gangs in various urban areas, including London and Berlin, has increased the prevalence of knives, guns, and grenades. As a result, these weapons are becoming more available for radicalized individuals, particularly youth.
  4. FORECAST: Given the potential for transnational links, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, far-right groups are expected to increase coordination throughout Western Europe. While fragmentation among far-right extremists is expected to continue, the threat posed by the far-right is liable to increase in the coming months. Considering the growing focus on creating a so-called “race war,” far-right militant groups are likely to attempt large scale coordinated attacks and campaigns in an attempt to bring this goal into fruition.
  5. FORECAST: Based on recent developments, militant groups are expected to attempt a series of attacks throughout Western Europe. While these groups pose a threat, attacks carried out by radicalized lone wolf attackers are still more likely to succeed due to lesser surveillance. Given that the risk for far-right radicalization has risen due to the pandemic, it is possible that lone wolf attacks are likely to increase as well. Such attacks are expected to target Muslim and Jewish individuals, as well as political opponents and migrants. While extremist groups may plot attacks, these are less likely to come to fruition due to increased surveillance by law enforcement.

Recommendations

  1. Travel to Europe may continue while maintaining vigilance for militant-related activity.
  2. Security plans should be updated to reflect the relevant threats associated with far-right militancy, particularly with regard to online radicalization among vulnerable groups. Pay attention to differing threats from organized cells and lone-wolf individuals.
  3. Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services, including among fringe groups with potential ties to far-right extremists. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.
  4. Alert authorities immediately upon witnessing suspicious items or behavior.

Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city – Russia Analysis

Please be advised

On May 6, the Islamic State (IS)-linked media group, al-Amaq, claimed that a shooting attack which took place in Nizhny Novgorod, western Russia, was committed by a ‘soldier’ of the Sunni-jihadist group. According to a statement from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on May 4, an assailant opened fire on police officers during an identity check and barricaded himself inside an apartment in the city. The statement indicated that the perpetrator was later neutralized by security forces.

From 14 June to 15 July 2018, Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in a number of cities, including in Nizhny Novgorod. In the run-up to the tournament, Russian security forces have carried out a large number of raids and arrests, looking to neutralize militant cells made up of both Central Asian migrants, mostly based in major cities, and North Caucasian militants, mostly from the Republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.

Since the beginning of 2018, at least 38 militant counter militancy raids have been recorded in Russia, the majority focusing on reportedly IS-linked militants. At least five of the raids occurred in or near World Cup cities, including Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Rostov-on-Don.

On April 17, three suspected IS-linked militants were arrested near Rostov-on-Don by FSB agents. A number of reports suggested the possibility that the militants were embedded in the city to wait until the start of the World Cup and carry out an attack during the tournament.

Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city - Russia Analysis | MAX Security
Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city | MAX Security

Click here to see Map Legend

Assessments

The claim from IS and the reports from the FSB indicate the first case of a successful attack occurring in a World Cup host city in 2018. The most recent Islamist militant attack in one of the host cities was in St. Petersburg in mid-2017. The incident underscores previous assessments that militants, from both Caucasian and Central Asian origins, are looking to focus their operations on the World Cup, so as to maximize exposure during the tournament. In addition, the developments come following the publication IS’ official newsletter, Al-Naba, on May 4 which called on its supporters to conduct attacks across Russia, underscoring the group’s continued interest in projecting its militant capabilities in the country. This assessment gains further credence considering IS’ repeated threats to the World Cup.

While there is no indication as to the origin of the militant at the time of writing, there are three main possibilities, all of which have been previously recorded in Russia. In the event that the attacker was a lone-wolf Central Asian migrant, who was locally radicalized within Russia through online and on ground Islamist networks, the incident highlights that lone-wolves in major cities are heeding to IS’ demands to carry out attacks on World Cup cities, demonstrating the threat in any city with a significant Central Asian diaspora community. In the event that the militant had links to Caucasian militant cells, it highlights attempts by the Caucasian Emirate pro-IS group to embed radicals within major cities, prior to the tournament, who will then carry out attacks. This is likely designed to occur before security in the North Caucasus becomes overwhelming around the time of the World Cup. The third option is that the militant may have had connections with both Central Asian militant networks and Caucasian cells, which would constitute a significant threat as such an assailant would be able to utilize the covert nature of the loosely linked Central Asian networks and the expertise of the well established Caucasian groups.

Going forward, a significant increase in counter-militancy operations in major cities and the North Caucasus will occur in the run-up to the World Cup. Furthermore, the potential for both minor and major attacks in all host cities remains before and during the tournament, likely looking to specifically target stadiums and locales with international attention, so as to maximize exposure.

Recommendations

Travel to Russia may continue while maintaining vigilant given the elevated risk of militancy and crime, particularly in major cities and World Cup host cities. (Click for our special report on threats to the 2018 World Cup).

Remain cognizant of any suspicious individuals or items that look out of place. Immediately alert authorities if identified.

Avoid all nonessential travel to the North Caucasus region, given the high risk of militancy and kidnapping.

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.