from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

Return to the Bad Old Days

September 12, 2013

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This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Thursday, September 12, 2013. 

In October 1990, extremists affiliated with the terrorist organization Egyptian Islamic Jihad raked Abdel Halim Moussa’s motorcade with gunfire. Moussa, the newly-appointed interior minister, survived, but the speaker of Egypt’s lower house of parliament, Rifaat el Mahgoub, was not as lucky. Islamic Jihad, the group responsible for President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, would try to kill Moussa three more times in as many years. Had it not been for the Algerian Civil War, which claimed approximately 100,000 lives between 1992 and 1998, more attention would likely have been paid to the insurrection that raged in Egypt during the same period. Between the first attempt on Moussa’s life and the infamous Luxor massacre seven years later, roughly 1,600 people were killed in a conflict between the Egyptian state and Islamist extremists -- 1,100 in 1993 alone. So when Egypt’s current interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, survived a car bombing in the Nasr City area of Greater Cairo last week, there was a palpable sense of dread among those with even a passing familiarity with recent Egyptian history. Are the 1990s back in Egypt? It is a distinct possibility.

The irony of the multiple attempts on Moussa’s life lay in the fact that he was a relative moderate -- at least by the standards of the police generals who have led Egypt’s notorious Interior Ministry over the years. After a period of stepped up repression in the late 1980s, Moussa adopted a more nuanced approach, seeking to bring Egypt’s extremist groups to heel through a combination of force and dialogue. The strategy did not work.

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