It has been a longstanding matter in Arab Republic of Egypt that the greatest threat always comes from within. Neither Israel’s willingness to fight on Egyptian soil rather than their own, nor Libya’s occasional threats of border warfare are existential threats; the Israelis have no desire to attack the heartland of Egypt, and the Libyans lack the capability. But Egypt is a secular Arab nation, perhaps the definitive example of the Arab Nationalist State, and that has meant that through all the years since the rise of Jamal Abdel Nasser’s seizure of the state and his securing power in the wake of the Suez Incident (1956), there has been a single significant opposition to the power of the state: The Moslem Brotherhood. This Islamist movement has significant strength in other Arab States, but nowhere does it have such deep roots as in Egypt. While the government of Egypt makes some substantial claims that the Moslem Brotherhood participates in militant resistance to the secular state, and they are certainly advocates of such, what they actually provide to the Islamist cause is an ideological base and a large following that has been taught to believe in that thinking.
The government has been more than willing to attribute all manner of plots and affairs to the Moslem Brotherhood, has placed bans on their activities and actively pursued members of the group for crimes real… and perhaps not-so-real. But one thing that was almost insistently claimed was that the activities of such Islamist inside Egypt was an Egyptian problem, caused by and blamed on Egyptians. To consider the possibility of an outside hand influencing things was often dismissed with such canards as “Sunni militants don’t cooperate with Shiite militants”.
Where that all began to break down was when the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) appeared from within the Moslem Brotherhood’s ranks in 1980. This group came to the fore with stunning rapidity and on October 6th, 1981, committed the assassination of President Anwar El Sadat. There are a host of names associated with Khalid Al-Islambouli, the assassin who would be heard of again, elsewhere: Omar Abdel-Rahman wrote the fatwa (clerical justification under Islamic Law) for the assassination; another of the Cairo-based element was Ayman Al-Zawahiri; just to cite examples.
Astoundingly, while the Egyptian government did break the cell and arrest most all of the then-called Tanzim al-Jihad, only 5 members were executed and the bulk of the mid-rank members were released from jail after serving a few years in prison. Those members then went into wide dispersal, many to Afghanistan and Pakistan to join in the Mujahideen in the war against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan.
But even without its most militant faction, the Moslem Brotherhood continued to inspire. In nearby Gaza of the Palestine Mandate Territory, the Palestinian wing of the Moslem Brotherhood spawned Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamat al-Islāmiyyah, the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known by its acromym: HAMAS. From its very beginning in 1987, HAMAS has proven to be the most determined Islamist movement inside the Palestinian community, and by far the most successful. Moreover, the strength that has allowed that success is of a kind not only drawn from the support of fellow believers inside Egypt but from a close, supportive relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Weapons and money flowed into HAMAS, and more; the only Palestinian militant group that has even considered implementing the particular version of Islamic Law practiced by the theocrats that run Iran is HAMAS.
So here we have a parallel linkage occurring.
EIJ members are one of the significant elements that make up al-Qaeda and implement their plots: Abdel-Rahman was a key part of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (truck bomb); Al-Zawahiri is one of “a majority” of the members of al-Qaeda’s ruling council drawn from EIJ. In the annals of al-Qaeda, EIJ formally became a part of al-Qaeda in June of 2001. But in the background, back home in Egypt, there is a wide community of support for such endeavors in the well-sown field of the Egyptian under-classes that are the political base of the current incarnation of the Moslem Brotherhood. This is just the sort of prepared ideological base that can be turned to use by active militants, just as it had been throughout the period of “open war” between the EIJ and the Egyptian government (1993~2000).
Yet at the same time, the HAMAS group is a cat’s-paw of Iran in their struggle for dominance over the Middle East. They need constant support and re-arming, and Iran is the primary facilitator for that. But one can not (as some more innocent supporters found out when they tried) simply sail a boat loaded with supplies into the Gaza Strip. The district is under strict Israeli embargo / inspection on three sides, and the Egyptian government makes at least all the right public postures about keeping their Gaza border closed as well. To get anything of value to militants into the Gaza, one has to have a route through Egypt (from somewhere, most often Sudan) leading up to the Sinai, and then access to the HAMAS-controlled smuggling tunnels into the Gaza.
There are a few sources that say the parallel linkage had become unified during the time EIJ was run by al-Zawahiri, with members being sent to Iran for training, and to work and train with Hezbollah, the Iranian front-group in Lebanon…
Oh yes, Hezbollah (Hizub’llah; Party of God), the state-within-a-state opposition to Israel’s existence and primary tool world-wide of Iran’s Pasdaran (Guardians of the Islamic Revolution; commonly abbreviated as IRGC). Now there is a shining example of Shiite extremism forged into a useful weapon for Iranian military and political goals. But such a group couldn’t possibly find any support or assistance within Egypt for its activities, could it?
The government of Egypt certainly acted as if Hezbollah’s agenda had no traction, at least until recently. Well, it seems that it is time to be leaving such denial behind:
April 9th, 2009, Egypt discovered and arrested 15 Hezbollah operatives inside Egypt planning acts of terror against the state and seeing to supplying arms to HAMAS for use against Israel.
April 12th, 2009, the details of the case became clearer and the origin of the threat to the Egyptian government was connected to the growing hostility between Egypt and Iran (over Bahrain’s sovereignty; Lebanon’s political future; and over a host of Arab reactions to recent Iranian provocations).
April 13th, 2009, the sheer size of the Hezbollah operation is unmasked, with Egyptian authorities in pursuit of 13 more Hezbollah operatives in the Sinai.
There is a lesson to be learned here, and it applies not only to the situation in Egypt:
Iran’s Pasdaran will use whatever linkage they can to gain support, where ever they can find the ground prepared.
That means not discounting an active al-Qaeda connection just because the Taliban are historically opposed to Iran. It is provable that Iranian arms are being fed into Afghanistan just as they were (and are, albeit at a lesser rate) into Iraq.
That means remembering the success Iran (via Hezbollah) has had in South America, successfully performing two major bombings in Argentina.
That means being very, very wary of the Tehran-Damascus-Caracas air link and the toleration that is being shown to Hezbollah representatives in Venezuela; the same applies to the outsized “diplomatic” presence in Nicaragua held by the Iranians right now.
If one insists on denying that the Iranians are not intent on using their capabilities to further their campaign of undeclared war, at a time and place of their choosing, then…
Then one day the arrests won’t just be happening in Egypt.
They’ll be happening where you live.
That is, if your police are as fortunate as the Egyptian authorities were this time.
All directly relevant End Notes are linked in the text.
General Information on all the Groups, Persons, and Places can be found at Wikipedia. The usual caveat applies to such, however: Check all the sources.