Was the Mubarak Regime Complicit in Egypt's Sectarian Violence?

The last year of the Hosni Mubarak regime was, according to The New York Times, "the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt." Bookended by two attacks on Coptic churches in a country with a sizeable Christian minority, the year of bloodshed reinforced the idea that only a strongman could prevent Islamic fundamentalism from overrunning the Arab world's largest country.

But shortly before the Egyptian military moved against the Mubarak regime, Al Arabiya television reported allegations that the Egyptian government, not content with fighting actual Islamists, may have invented some of its own enemies. An official government probe is looking into reports that the New Year's Eve church bombing in Alexandria, initially blamed on Al-Qaeda, might actually have been perpetrated by the Egyptian government, with the intention of gaining sympathy and support from the West. The Saudi-backed TV station—founded as a moderate alternative to Al Jazeera, and host to Barack Obama's first formal interview as president in January 2009—also reported that British diplomats believe Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly had a whole department dedicated to these sorts of operations:

Egypt's general prosecutor on Monday opened probe [sic] on former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly's reported role in the New Year's Eve bombing of al-Qiddissin Church in Alexandria in which 24 people were killed, an Egyptian lawyer told Al Arabiya.

Laywer Ramzi Mamdouh said he had presented a proclamation to Egyptian prosecutor Abd al-Majid Mahmud to investigate news media reports suggesting that the former interior ministry had masterminded the deadly church attack with the intent to blame it on Islamists, escalate government crackdown on them, and gain increased western support for the regime.

Mahmud said the information contained in some reports were "serious." 

The proclamation, numbered 1450, pointed to the news reports sourcing a UK diplomat who explained the reasons why Britain has insisted on the immediate departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his regime, especially his interior ministry's security apparatus previously directed by el-Adly.

According the UK diplomatic sources quoted in the reports, the former interior minister had built up in over six years a special security system that was managed by 22 officers and that employed a number of former radical Islamists, drug dealers and some security firms to carry out acts of sabotage around the country in case the regime was under threat to collapse.

If true, this would explain the claim made by members of an Assyrian nationalist NGO that Egyptian security officials abandoned their posts at the church in Alexandria just an hour before the attack—and that it may not have been the first time:

Eyewitnesses confirmed that security forces guarding the church withdrew nearly one hour before the blast, leaving only four policemen and an officer to guard such a big church and nearly 2000 people attending the midnight mass. "Normally they would have waited until the mass was over," said [Copts4Egypt's Hany] el-Gezeiry. [...]

On January 6, 2010, just before the [Coptic] Christmas Eve Massacre in Nag Hammadi, security withdrew its forces from guarding the church a couple of hours before the shooting of the Coptic congregation took place.

This would not be the first time the regime (and even el-Adly himself) has been accused of sabotaging public order in order to bolster its own image. As Jesse Walker noted earlier, there were many reports that government security forces were behind some of the looting in the early days of the recent crisis, ostensibly in an effort to discredit the protests as chaotic and destabilizing.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    stunning

  • ||

    It would be pretty great to see some of these scumbags get the Mussolini treatment.

  • affenkopf||

    Mussolini, Ceauşescu. It's kind of sad to see how few of these bastards got what they deserved.

  • Stephen J. Smith||

    It warms my Romanian heart to see the comma under that s.

  • Kolohe||

    They are, it should be noted, investigating the former interior minister for all sorts instances of malfesance, corruption and human rights violations. Some amount of malfesance, corruption, and human rights violations no doubt happened on his watch and as a direct consquence of his actions, but any investigation now is a matter of throwing *everything* against the wall and see what sticks. There's no small amount of score settling going on, too.

  • Stephen J. Smith||

    That could explain the Egyptian government probe, but how to explain the UK diplomatic report or the fact that the police abandoned the church an hour before the attack?

  • Kolohe||

    UK diplomatic intel reports, like American ones, like everyone elses', are a mixed bag. Some are right, some are wrong, some are not even wrong. There's other reports in the media (Jesse Walker linked the other day to a piece on Al Jazera) that the interior minister had co-opted & hired all sorts of miscreants and malcontents to do his dirty work so I don't doubt that part. I would guess though, like the Red Dog unit in Hotlanta, most of sectarian violence was freelance work - and done 'pro-bono' -and not directly ordered by the interior minister. The specific report regarding the specific attack on the Alexandria Coptic church, however, is something that is only coming from a single source (i.e. UK diplomatic intelligence) and because it's coming from diplomatic intelligence, the UK likely got it from a source in the Egypyian interior ministry, who by virtue of talking to a foreign government, had some sort of agenda or axe to grind (which doesn't rule out the Egyptian source making it up but it must be considered)

    The fact that police abandoned the church an hour before the attack? 2000 egyptian pounds (US $340) for the guy in charge, 200 pounds for each of his men, and they'll go away for a few hours for some tea. Doesn't need the interior minister.

  • ||

    Jesus, we are one screwed up species. Do you think other intelligences in the galaxy behave like this? Scary, if so.

  • ||

    Do you think other intelligences in the galaxy behave like this?

    If there are any then yes.

    In fact I find it harder to think of an evolved intelligence that would not behave like this.

    Furthermore I find it hard to think of any form of life that does not behave like this.

    Hell I could probably find bacteria that kill its own to deceive its own for its own gain.....seems to me a pretty basic evolutionary adaptation....the more complex stuff in my mind is the adaptations to counter this type of behavior....and the stuff to counter the counter...or even the stuff to counter the counter of the counter.

  • ||

    So, I guess no enlightened superbeings are coming to bail us out? Suppose I should shut down my emergency beacon.

    Rats.

  • Hugh Akston||

    If there are any intelligent superbeings out in the galaxy, they are wisely giving earth a wide berth.

  • ||

    So no power ring for me, then?

  • ||

    It's amazing what pussies Muslim men are, how they kowtow to their leaders, even when they pullshitlikethis.

  • ||

    It's hilarious that you earlier take me to task for being impolite while referencing ICP, then turn around and spit out some racist, misandrist gems without even a sense of irony.

    You amuse me. Stick around.

  • ||

    Holy shit i assumed Sarah was troll.

    ...good find Epi.

  • ||

    Also, fake email address. What's a matter, not smart enough to get into Carnegie?

  • ||

    Uh, don't you mean Wellesley, you Brandeis mother fucker? Just admit that Wellesley was, and still is, where you troll for the hirsute women you crave.

  • ||

    If I wanted hirsute I wouldn't have to go very far. Plenty of unshaven Jewish girls lasciviously showing off their ankles in long skirts.

  • ||

    Your attempt to dodge my question tells me everything I need to know: you're so lazy you just go over to Bentley to hit on future secretaries. You're so lazy you don't even go over to BC.

  • ||

    To be honest, if I can't find a girl smart enough to have a philosophical/political conversation with, I tend to prefer them dumb as a rock instead.

  • ||

    I tend to prefer them dumb as a rock instead

    Well then you would go over to BC, then. Make some sense, man!

  • ||

    Epi, if you need some dating advice just be straight forward. No need to copy my mating trail.

  • ||

    I am merely trying to understand the dating mind of someone who works at a school that's lower down the list than Brown (snigger). I think my butler went to Brandeis...for his undergrad degree.

  • ||

    I wouldn't choose Brown over Brandeis considering my field of study. Brandeis is one of the best biological research schools in the country, I don't really give a shit about anything else.

    And you are a graduate of...?

  • ||

    You're really still a virgin if you haven't felt the soft touch of a real woman's female mustache on your skin Epi.

  • ||

    the Egyptian government, not content with fighting actual Islamists, may have invented some of its own enemies.

    What, they're taking tips from the FBI?

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH JEALOUS OF MUBARAK! MUBARAK GET TO RAPE ENTIRE COUNTRY. STEVE SMITH WANTS TO RAPE ENTIRE COUNTRY TOO. STEVE SMITH LIKE TO RAPE MUBARAK. RAPING RAPIST MAKE STEVE SMITH EVEN MORE RAPEY.

  • ||

    STEVE POSE PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION TO MARSHALL: CAN STEVE RAPE RAPE ITSELF? CAN STEVE ACHIEVE META-RAPE? BEN ROETHLISBERGER TRY AND FAIL; CAN STEVE SUCCEED?

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH CAN NOT RAPE ITSELF. STEVE SMITH CAN ONLY RAPE, RAPE OTHERS. EXCEPT OPRAH, NOT EVEN STEVE SMITH WOULD TOUCH THAT.

  • ||

    BUT IF THERE ARE MULTIPLE STEVE SMITHS, THEN THEY CAN RAPE EACH OTHER, CAN THEY NOT? CAN STEVE ACHIEVE THE IMPOSSIBLE OF BEING THE RAPER AND THE RAPEE...AT SAME TIME?

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH NEEDS SOME PENSIVE RAPE TIME WITH DAGNY IF STEVE SMITH WANTS TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION.

  • ||

    STEVE RAPE ALWAYS PENSIVE...WHAT YOU TAKE STEVE FOR? CASUAL RAPIST? YOU GO TOO FAR!

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH DOESN'T WANT DAGNY KNOW ABOUT THE OTHERS.

  • ||

    TOO LATE, HELLER! TOO LATE.

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH TOLD DAGNY THAT SORES CAUSED BY RASH. DAGNY KNOW SHE NOT ALONE AFTER NEXT DOCTOR VISIT.

  • Leroy||

    So, I think the true awesomeness of this post has been missed.

    Every time you refresh it, you get a new STEVE SMITH quote at the bottom.

    Excellent.

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH REQUIRE RAPE ROYALTY FOR CONTINUED PLAGIARISM.

  • Apogee||

    Honestly, I expected the rape spoofing to start with the first comment.

    +10 for actually commenting on the article.

  • Lounsbury||

    Very good note and good to bring attention to this. It is worth noting that there have long been credible reports in re Algeria during its civil war that some portion of the Islamist violence was actually the Security (Interior). Not all to be sure, and one should certainly keep in mind that there are genuine tensions between Copts and Muslims.
    However, in my years living in Egypt, my sense was much of this arose from economic frustration and a sense of scrambling / competing for the same crumbs. It served regime interests to keep people focused on communal tension rather than regime role as neo-Mamluks.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement