CAIRO — On Friday, just one day before the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution here, four bombs ripped through the city, killing six and injuring scores, in an apparent escalation of a campaign against security forces.
The bombings come after months of deadly attacks on police, army and government targets mainly in the restive Sinai Peninsula, worlds away from the capital. But a string of recent attacks in Egypt’s more populated cities has reinforced fears of insurgency — and a growing public support for the military-backed government and its “fight against terrorism.”
“The terrorists are desperately trying to show the world that the security situation is unstable and the government is losing control,” Ministry of Interior representative Brigadier Gen. Hatem Fathy told The WorldPost. “Yet, the result of today’s explosions is a more firm stance from the Egyptians behind the police.”
According to Fathy, four people were arrested Thursday in Cairo after they were reportedly found making homemade bombs in an apartment. He says security forces have diffused tens of devices over the past few months.
Egyptian news outlets reported on television Friday morning that Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis — a Sinai-based jihadist group that has claimed responsibility for many attacks on security forces — carried out the bombings. The group said in an official statement Friday night that it was responsible for all four attacks, according to David Barnett, a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who monitors Sinai jihadist activity. Since the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July, the group has used political turmoil and the crackdown on Islamists as a way to advance its hardline religious agenda.
Crowds of protesters near the first and largest blast site, where the ground is now a gaping crater, united in support of the military and called for members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to be executed. In the months since Morsi was overthrown, more than a thousand of his supporters have been killed by security forces, and thousands more imprisoned. Many Egyptians who support the military and its widely adored Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi say that the Brotherhood and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis are one and the same, with both groups pushing for stricter interpretation of Islam. Brotherhood members deny the association.
Mere hours before the first blast that rocked downtown Cairo early Friday morning, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis released a recorded message online. Barnett confirmed to The WorldPost that the video is authentic.
A group official who identified himself in the video as Abu Osama Al Masri read a nearly 21-minute statement threatening security forces and calling on Egyptians to fight for Islam.
“Total peacefulness is not a solution, and the rule of God will not return with chants alone,” the official said. “We have to put ourselves on the road of sacrifices.”
“We are asking that the will of God is applied with no questions,” he added. “And what he has dictated is applied with no referendums or votes.”
According to Barnett, while the jihadist group’s attacks are now less frequent, the group is focusing on bolder and deadlier attacks in places like Cairo.
At the main blast site on Friday, many Egyptians wore Sissi masks and even passed out fliers advocating for his presidential bid, which he has hinted at but not formally announced. While some people slammed the Ministry of Interior for what they saw as a security failure, most showed their solidarity with the military — seemingly at an all-time high since the revolution.
Unlike three years ago when Egyptians rallied in mass, demanding “bread, freedom and social justice,” many plan to demonstrate on Saturday in support of Sissi and his promise to restore security. Meanwhile, many high-profile revolutionaries and outspoken critics of the government are now behind bars, charged with everything from illegally protesting to inciting violence.
Brotherhood supporters are also set to protest on Saturday, their chants calling for their imprisoned supporters to be released and for Morsi to be returned to power. But as Islamist demonstrators continue to take to the streets in protest, they become more alienated from the rest of the Egyptian public.
The Ministry of Interior has urged people to celebrate the fight against terrorism and confront the Brotherhood’s so-called plan to “spread chaos and ignite a counter-revolution.”
“It’s incredibly irresponsible,” said Dr. Hisham A. Hellyer, a Middle East expert and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, referring to the government’s call for support in the streets even after deadly bombings. “It’s part of the whole ultra-nationalist frenzy going around.”
He expects there will be widespread arrests — and perhaps even killings — of pro-Morsi protesters on Saturday if they follow through with plans to demonstrate, especially in the wake of such violence.
“The people are terrified and angry,” he said. “And the government is just creating a massive target.”
With contributing reporting from correspondent May Kamel in Cairo.
This story has been updated to indicate that Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the bombings.