Mubarak under US Pressure to Let Opposition Loose
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak spent March fighting off pressure from Washington to free opposition leader Ayman Nur after six weeks in jail. When the Egyptian president held back, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice called off a scheduled visit to Cairo. Nur was released a few days later. The Bush administration then turned up the heat with a second warning that Washington would not brook limitations on Nur’s freedom of protest or security forces dispersing demonstrations by his supporters.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Cairo sources report that the Egyptian president uttered a few graphic epithets about George W. Bush and his democracy campaign in the Middle East, which were heard only by his close aides.
His bitterness focused on two grievances:
1. Ayman Nur is a nonentity as an opposition leader and incapable of charting a political strategy in opposition. The Americans, Mubarak believes, do not know their protege or do not care. This proves that they are willing to back anyone who publicly criticizes the Mubaraks.
2. He calculated that once the Egyptian police failed to crack down on Nur and his few hundred followers, the Muslim Brotherhood would in no time be spilling out on the streets and presenting a very real threat.
3. The moment the Muslim Brothers are loose, a whole gallery of violent Islamic groups will go on the rampage of terrorist operations around Egyptian cities. They were only held in check with the greatest difficulty.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that this scenario is already unfolding.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders stood and watched the Nur demonstrators being given free rein and the Egyptian police standing by with their hands in their pockets – and acted. They directed their field operators to stage small demonstrations against the Mubarak regime, only large enough to test how much slack was allowed them. These demonstrations are being staged almost every day in a different Egyptian town.
They have taken place at Cairo’s two universities, Al Azhar and Ain Shams, and in the towns of Assiut and Mansoura. None of the Brotherhood’s leaders take part.
Muslim Brotherhood will seek election
The protesters are carefully drilled to hold back on their usual fiery religious slogans and instead go for the Mubarak clan and its domination of the regime. The Brethren demand loudly that Hosni Mubarak – and alternatively his son Gemal – refrain from running for election in November and that the First Lady, Susan Mubarak, stop meddling in national politics.
While firing their broadsides against the ruling family, the Muslim Brotherhood is crafty enough to keep its rallies down to no more than 1,500 to 2,000 protesters, providing no excuse for the police to go into action against them.
Their conduct is strictly that of a regular opposition party aiming to displace the ruling faction at the polls.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Islamic experts, the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have decided to use the free rein Mubarak has been forced to grant them to advance their goals on two fronts: Egypt and Palestine, where they operate through their member-group, the Hamas. These Muslim radicals see great promise for advancement in both places and have therefore decided to drop their campaign in Syria.
On Thursday, April 8, a bomb blast in the popular Khan al Khalil bazaar in Cairo blew up, killing one American and two French citizens, and injuring 19.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources name the suicide bomber who set off the blast as Hassan Rafaat Ahmed Bashandi, aged 18. He was an engineering student at the university in the Nile Delta town of Zagazig until his father’s death. The town is known as a stronghold of radical Islamists. He then became a religious extremist and joined the Muslim Brotherhood. For his attack, he used a homemade 7-kilo bomb laced with many nails which he carried in a bag – not three kilos as stated. A search of his family home in Cairo revealed a CD Rom manual for bomb-making, downloaded from the World Jihad Islami website. Discovered in his aunt’s house nearby where he often slept were 43 fireworks from which he removed the gun powder for his bomb.
It is not clear if Bashandi was sent on his attack by the Muslim Brotherhood or whether he acted on his own. This essentially extremist organization cannot always restrain the zeal of every single member.