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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Égypte fragilisée face à la menace islamiste

by Hassane Zerrouky

A weakened Egypt faces Islamist threat

Translated Saturday 15 January 2011, by Sarah Peak and reviewed by Derek Hanson

In a country in the midst of a socio-political crisis and plagued by fundamentalism, a trivial love affair can be exploited by religious extremism in order to justify an attack.

Fearing new terrorist attacks over the Coptic Christmas (celebrated 7 January), and prepared to run the risk of confrontation within the European Union, the Egyptian authorities reinforced security measures across the country. They intervened after the angry protests by thousands of Copts that took place on 1 and 2 January in Alexandria and Cairo, accusing the government of having under-estimated the gravity of the Islamist terrorist threats.

Indeed, last year on 2 November, after the kamikaze attacks in Baghdad having caused the death of a further 46 Irakis of Christian faith, the ISI (Islamic State of Iraq, a group linked to al-Qaeda) declared the Church of the Two Saints of Alexandria as a “legitimate target for the Mujahideen”. The ISI asked the Coptic Church for the “liberation” of two Christians, Camelia Shehata and Wafa Constantine, the wives of priests “imprisoned” in monasteries after their conversion to Islam. “Have we forgotten the pressures from America to send Wafa Constantine and her sisters into the underground torture chambers of the monastaries?” proclaimed al-Qaeda’s number 2, Aymen Zawahiri.

In fact the ISI was exploiting a mediocre news story blown out of proportion by the Egyptian Media who see every conversion to Islam as a blessing from God. The truth is that in 2004, Camelia Shehata, 25, had left her husband for a Muslim work colleague. An elopement quickly transformed by extremists from both sides into a politico-religious affair, and a source of verbal and physical confrontation between the two communities.

Nevertheless, in a country beset daily by the religious, since the ex-President Sadat relied upon Islamists to make a turn towards the right (a turn that his successor Honsi Mubarak has continued), an ordinary news piece such as this story of true or false conversion can, at any moment, build to uncontrollable proportions. Particularly in the context of a socially and politically weakened Egypt, as is illustrated by the low participation in the Parliamentary elections last November (25%), where planning for life after Mubarak has already begun. The powers that be do not miss a chance to profit from any event in order to bring together once again a contrived national unity around the regime. In the past there were numerous rulers of the regime who conjured up the existence of a foreign “plot” aimed at undermining national unity. While the more clear-sighted, such as columnist for the al-Shorouk newspaper, warn against the risk of a collapse “similar to that in Lebanon in 1975”.

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