It is striking that US and UK media attention has focused on ISIS attacks in Paris where 129 people were killed on 13 November 2015, whereas terrorist incidents conducted elsewhere were reported with less attention to detail. In fact, the BBC reported that in 2015 ISIS has been linked to a range of terrorist incidents outside of Iraq and Syria such as in Tunis, Tunisia (18 people killed on 18 March), Sanaa, Yemen (137 people killed on 21 March), Qatif, Saudi-Arabia (21 people killed on 22 May), Kuwait City, Kuwait (27 people killed on 27 June), Sousse, Tunisia (38 people killed on 26 June), Suruc, Turkey (33 people killed on 20 July), Ankara, Turkey (102 people killed on 10 October), Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (224 people killed on 31 October), and Beirut, Lebanon (43 people killed on 12 November). These incidents, it could be argued, were reported albeit in a less intensive fashion than Paris. Moreover, the news media has largely avoided to link ISIS attacks to Western (speak US/UK) policies.
A striking example constitutes Egypt where on 31 October 2015 the Russian plane A 321 was downed in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort. According to the British newspaper the Independent, the ISIS militant branch in the Sinai later claimed responsibility for the alleged terrorist plot during which 224 passengers were killed. How does that link to Western policies?
Restoration in Egypt
On 3 July 2013, the Egyptian military under authority of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted the first democratically elected government and its President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. This event was followed by a series of military crackdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood during which more than 1,000 protestors were slaughtered within a period of two months. Human Rights Watch labelled one of the massacres as the “largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” During mass trials, hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been sentenced to death. It is assumed that today the regime holds more than 40,000 prisoners. Moreover, al-Sisi has tightened the military’s grip over Egyptian society with a range of repressive “anti-terrorism” laws, which appear to be designed to stifle public dissent and grass roots activism. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists the new legislation “criminalizes basic reporting” and effectively makes the state “the only permissible source of news”. The law also imposes a minimum of five years in prison for “promotion, directly or indirectly, of any perpetration of terrorist crimes, verbally or in writing or by any other means.”
An Overseen Coup
The New York Times’ Mark Landler reported the following statement by US President Barack Obama, in reaction to the July 2013 coup: “(…) Mr. Obama warned of the dangers of violence and tried to steer Egypt’s military towards a prompt resumption of democratic rule.” (“Ambassador becomes focus of Egyptians’ mistrust of US,” 4 July 2013, p. 1). Thus, the military coup did not lead to much indignation in the West. While US officials expressed some criticism, no sanctions or other measures were evoked against Egypt because the country has the status of a “friendly” Western client state.
Landler also reported on the role of US Ambassador to Egypt, Ms. Ann W. Patterson. According to Landler, Ms. Patterson had “worked closely with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” and also “met regularly with Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after he was elected president.” (ibid.) Advisors of former President Morsi, who had meetings with Ms. Patterson and her deputy, were cited in The New York Times, suggesting that the US was implicated in the coup: “Nobody who knows Egypt is going to believe a coup could go forward without a green light from the Americans.“ (David K. Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh, “Morsi Spurned Deals, Seeing Military as Tamed,” The New York Times, 7 July 2013, p. 1).
In fact, the US annually provides $1.3 billion in aid to the Egyptian military and, as an editorial of The New York Times admits, “Fewer countries are more invested in Egypt than the United States, which relies on Cairo to uphold the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.” (“Crisis in Egypt,” 4 July 2013, p. 24). Incidentally, Saudi-Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to provide $8 billion in grants and interest loans to Egypt right after the coup (David K. Kirkpatrick, “New Egyptian Government’s Transitional Plan Meets with Swift Criticism,” The New York Times, 19 July 2013, p. 8). Thus, the power collective spanning the USA, Saudi-Arabia and UAE, which has supported “rebellions” in Syria and Libya also had a stake in Egypt, where it oversaw a brutal military crackdown against an elected government. These power politics are part of a larger chess game that is currently unfolding in the Middle East where the US and their clients struggle to subjugate countries of importance to their strategic interests.
ISIS strengthened in Egypt?
As Mohamad Bazzi argues in an article for Reuters, “in the decades leading up to the Arab uprisings of 2011, Islamist parties across the region renounced violence and committed to participating in electoral politics.” The coup might have changed this. As Bazzi further writes, Islamists now view the “coup and subsequent crackdown as a signal that election results will not be respected.” We have consequently seen a surge in violence in Egypt and the outlook described by Bazzi may as well have strengthened the position of ISIS in Egypt.