On July 2, the day after the ISIS Sinai affiliate launched its biggest attack yet on Egyptian military and security positions in North Sinai, President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi ordered all high-ranking military, intelligence, judicial and government officials to take their families and go into hiding at safe havens prepared in advance for an emergency.
Intelligence chief Khaled Fawzy was given charge of this top-level security operation, which DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report, followed the murder on June 29 of the Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat near his residence in the up-scale Cairo district of Heliopolis.
This neighborhood is home to the most important and affluent people in Egypt and therefore the most heavily guarded and screened.
Nonetheless, a clandestine Muslim Brotherhood cell gained access to Heliopolis, parked a powerful bomb car near its target and positioned an operative in an apartment or a nearby rooftop for detonating the bomb car by remote control exactly when the prosecutor’s armed convoy drove by.
This sequence attested to access by the Brotherhood’s assassination plotters to confidential intelligence on the movements of senior officials.
Judiciary-army pact stabilizes Egypt, but frustrates the opposition
The Islamic State’s Sinai offensive came two days after Prosecutor Barakat’s assassination. It was another spur for the decision to whisk hundreds of high officials and their families without delay to secret protected buildings under heavy, round-the-clock guard.
Cairo has undergone a succession of upheavals since the Tahrir Square (Arab Spring) revolution overthrew Hosni Mubarak’s presidency in 2011. This turmoil led to the forging of an unorthodox pact between the generals and the judiciary.
The pact went into action when the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013) brought the country to economic collapse. The judges decided then that bringing the army to power was the only way to save the most populous Muslim Arab country in the Middle East from ruin. And indeed, since El-Sisi became president, Egypt has experienced a measure of political stability and its international and regional standing has been partly restored.
But this remedy was only effective in the short term. The inherent causes of domestic unrest remained unaddressed. DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources note that the regime’s clampdown on political and opposition activity of any sort, by the judiciary, the army and security services, has left opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the radical supporters of the Islamic State no outlet for making themselves heard.
Their only channel of action left to them is that of violence, terrorism and assassination.
High officials can’s stay in hiding for long
Evacuating key government officials to safe hideouts will soon present the regime with three major challenges:
1. The smooth functioning of government, military and judiciary from places of isolation to assure the public that everything is normal is essential, but unsustainable for any length of time.
2. The risk is high that Brotherhood plotters will track down these safe houses and break in, just as they pierced the heavy protective circle surrounding the chief prosecutor. An attempt on the life of a senior officer in hiding would put an end to this exercise. In any case, officials and their families in particular will find it increasingly hard to live in secret quarantine without giving their secret locations away at some point.
3. Guarding President El-Sisi’s person against assassins is the toughest task of all. (Last week, DEBKA Weekly 669 reported: Egypt’s El-Sisi is the third Arab ruler in the Islamic State’s crosshairs). It is obvious to Egyptian security services and heads of the Republican Guard, which is charged with protecting the president, his family and palaces, that El-Sisi surpasses all other targets for the ousted Muslim Brotherhood and its ally the Islamic State. They are convinced that the liquidation of El-Sisi their archenemy would topple the military regime and annul its pact with the judiciary.
Haunted by Sadat’s death at the hands of an insider
DEBKA Weekly’s counter-terror and intelligence sources reveal that the president’s safety has been put in the hands of an ultra-secret body, which is separate from the security agencies guarding top officials and functions independently of the regular intelligence and security services. None have been given the names of its members. They live in constant fear of a recurrence of the nightmare of the October 6, 1981 when President Anwar Sadat was murdered by the head of the president’s private bodyguard, an army colonel called Abbud al-Zumar, who later turned out to be a secret radical Muslim.
At one time, Sadat trusted him enough to use him to infiltrate Egypt’s extremist Islamic movements and pick up plots against his life.
To this day, Washington and Cairo conceal the fact, first revealed here, that, in the first week of April, 1981, seven months before he was assassinated, Sadat visited the White House and showed President Ronald Reagan and CIA chief William Casey secretly obtained footage of meetings held by Islamic groups led by El-Jihad, to discuss ways and means of murdering him.
The Egyptian president joked that Al-Zumar, who secretly shot the film, was the only person close enough to the president to kill him.
Neither Reagan nor Casey took the threat to Sadat’s life seriously; nor did they realize that his joke was inadvertently prophetic.
The people responsible for safeguarding the president and top officials understand that, no matter how tight the protective shield, there can be no absolute guarantee that one of the most trusted guards will not one day pull the trigger of a gun or detonate a bomb against their charges – in the name of the Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS.