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Egyptians on Friday shouted anti-terrorism slogans as they demonstrated in front the site of a blast at the Egyptian police headquarters, at right, and the Museum of Islamic Art, at left, in downtown Cairo.

Amr Nabil • Associated Press,

Egypt upheaval

February 2011: Autocrat Hosni Mubarak driven out of power after 18-day uprising

January 2012: Islamists, led by Mohammed Morsi, win elections.

December 2012: Islamists approve draft constitution that increases role of Islam.

July 2013: Military ousts Morsi and wage crackdown on Islamists.

January: Voters approve new constitution banning parties bases on religion.

Prolonged fight feared in Egypt as crisis grows

  • Article by: DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
  • New York Times
  • January 24, 2014 - 11:47 PM

 

– Three years after the start of its revolt for democracy, the capital was shaken Friday by four deadly bombings, in the clearest sign yet that Egypt is entering a prolonged and violent struggle between the military-backed government and a growing Islamist insurgency.

The bombs, scattered around the city and all aimed at the police, left in their aftermath a grim realization that a cycle of terrorism and repression is hardening the determination of each side to fight to the death, all but extinguishing the 3-year-old dream of an inclusive democracy and open debate.

“The timing is a message that the third anniversary of the revolution will not be a celebration; they want to color it with blood,” said Moataz Abdel-Fattah, a political scientist at the American University of Cairo. “And it will only darken the political waters, with more people calling for a hard-line stance against the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters.”

Within two hours of the first and largest explosion, a car bombing at dawn outside a security headquarters, a crowd of at least 200 had gathered at the police line to cheer for Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who deposed President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer and is now poised to succeed him.

“The people want the execution of the Brothers,” they chanted, blaming the Brotherhood for the attack in a bloodthirsty imitation of the calls that rang out three years ago calling for “the fall of the regime.”

A government statement evoked the earlier battle against a militant Islamist insurgency that flared in the 1990s, vowing to “uproot it once again” and “show neither pity nor mercy.”

“Everything is left now to the army and the police, there is no politics in Egypt,” said Fahmy Howeidy, a veteran columnist considered sympathetic to political Islam. “And if you close the door against peaceful solutions, you should expect violence as an alternative.”

No one had claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombings, which killed six people, injured more than 70. But the explosions occurred hours after a young Islamist militant group that has claimed responsibility for many recent attacks, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, warned Egyptian security officers in a video message to “escape with your weapons” because “we will target you as we target your leaders.”

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis often quotes the leaders of Al-Qaida in video messages. Those Al-Qaida leaders, in turn, drew their inspiration from an ideology forged in Egyptian jails under previous crackdowns on Islamists by presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hosni Mubarak. If the group is responsible, then a militant strand of Islamist radicalism will have come full circle.

Although commentators on state television and demonstrators at the scene immediately blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, the group said that it “strongly condemns the cowardly bombings in Cairo, expresses condolences to the families of those killed” and “demands swift investigations.” It blamed the “coup authorities” for deteriorating security, including the failure to apprehend the perpetrators of previous bombings.

Security forces around the capital had been on high alert even before the bombings in anticipation of the anniversary Saturday. The police had already cut off train access from southern Egypt, where support for the Islamists is strong. Each night this week security forces have set up heavily armed checkpoints around the city, although they apparently did little to stop the bombers.

Egyptian television networks broadcast security camera footage of the scene leading up to the first attack: a handful of figures walking slowly away from a white pickup truck just minutes before it explodes.

“It felt like Judgment Day,” said Yahia, 26, who was sleeping at a friend’s home nearby and declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals. “Yesterday, the whole area was barricaded by the police, and even the residents of the area could not get around,” he said. “If you wanted to take a taxi, they wouldn’t let it stop in front of the security headquarters. How did they get in?”

The blast killed four policemen and injured more than 70 people, the government said. The explosion left a truck-size crater in the pavement so deep that it burst an underground water pipe. In addition to severely damaging several stories of the security building, the bomb damaged the facade and contents of the Museum of Islamic Art across the street and an adjacent national library as well.

Supporters of El-Sissi began gathering almost immediately, waving Egyptian flags and holding signs depicting a profile of El-Sissi in dark sunglasses against the profile of a lion, or, in other posters, of a hawk.

Half a block away, a police officer clutching an Egyptian flag climbed a barricade in front of the damaged security headquarters to address a small crowd and several television cameras. “We are here for you, we will sacrifice our souls for you, we are here for this,” he said, pointing to the flag. “They are martyrs too,” he said, gesturing at his fellow officers.

Two more attacks unfolded Friday. In the Dokki neighborhood, three men threw a bag of explosives at a security vehicle, killing a soldier and injuring 11 security personnel, the public prosecutor said. Another pro-El-Sissi crowd responded with the same chant for the “execution” of the Muslim Brothers.

The third blast came from a primitive explosive device thrown at a police station. Then, in the late afternoon, a roadside bomb targeted a group of police vehicles returning from the clashes with Islamists protesting the military takeover. At least one bystander was killed in the explosion.

In addition to the six people killed by the bombs, at least eight more civilian protesters were killed in battles with the police, the Health Ministry said, bringing to 14 the total number who died Friday in political violence.

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