Egyptian President has fired the director of security of the province where one bombing happened
But it's unlikely that one firing will remedy the profound shortcomings of Egyptian security, says Ben Wedeman
Fashil – “failed” – that’s how many Egyptians, particularly Coptic Christians, are describing their government’s handling of security in Egypt in the aftermath of the Palm Sunday bombings in Alexandria and Tanta.
The bombings, claimed by ISIS, left at least 43 dead and almost 120 wounded.
Video posted on Facebook shows an angry crowd surrounding, then beating, Maj. Gen. Hussam Ad-Din Khalifa, director of security in Gharbiya Province – where Tanta is located – when he tried inspecting the damage at the Church of Mar Girgis, or St. George. Shortly afterward, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi relieved Khalifa of his duties. Protesters in Alexandria are demanding the resignation of the interior minister.
It’s unlikely, however, that throwing one security official under the bus – a favorite tactic of Egyptian rulers – will remedy the profound shortcomings of Egyptian security, underscored by a long series of terror attacks in the country going back decades.
Deadly church bombing in Egypt
Egypt’s security apparatus is vast, including the regular police and an array of intelligence agencies with unknown budgets employing hundreds of thousands of uniformed officers and informers. Egyptian and international human rights groups have long accused Egypt’s security services of wholesale abuse, torture and extrajudicial killings.
And while some of them are true intelligence professionals, many more are poorly paid, poorly trained and poorly equipped.
Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow in the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said via email, “Generally Egyptian police rely on a large archaic network of human assets to detect threats, and do not invest in the proper training of security forces.”
After the suicide bombing of the “Butrusiya,” the Church of St. Peter and Paul, in Cairo on December 11, 2016, worshipers accused the police of leaving their posts to have breakfast in their police van. A suicide bomber managed to slip into the church and blow himself up, killing 25 worshipers, mostly women.
“This is a security regime that can be easily penetrated by ISIS-trained operatives,” said Awad, a leading expert on the ISIS-led insurgency in Egypt. “Most of the security personnel staffing posts are largely untrained, uneducated, even illiterate conscripts.”
The starting salary for a police conscript is around $280, hardly enough to get by. As a result, it’s common for men in uniform to try to supplement their incomes through fair means and foul. Security personnel at Cairo Airport often ask travelers for “haga halwa,” something sweet, i.e. a bribe. Traffic police can be persuaded to let you break the rules for just a few Egyptian pounds.
In the wake of these latest bombings, Sisi, formerly head of military intelligence, has declared the formation of a supreme council to counter terrorism and extremism, as well as a three-month state of emergency.
Previous attacks have been followed by the sacking of senior intelligence officials, pledges to beef up security, roundups of the usual suspects. But the attacks have continued.
And as long as those attacks continue, more and more Egyptians will conclude their security services are “fashil.”