The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Khan al-Khalili bombing

This from Reuters:

"It's a very unsophisticated type of device, typical of acts planned and executed by one individual," [Tourism Minister Ahmed] el-Maghrabi said, quoting a cabinet report on the attack. Three U.S. citizens, four Egyptians and two French people are still in hospital, Maghrabi said. One of the French casualties is in critical condition, but "all the rest are either in good or stable condition," he added.

The Egyptian government is quick to emphasize that the bombing appears to be the work of an individual. The immediate response to the stabbing of kissing Hungarian tourists 10 days ago was also the work of a man that security officials "described as unemployed and suffering from severe depression."

Same story with the Taba bombing. "Two of the defendants" (the third is still at large) "did not belong to any terrorist group, [prosecutor-general Mahir] Abd al-Wahid said."

As long as no credible group claims responsibility I suppose there is no reason to doubt their word.

More from the Reuters story:

A political analyst said recent attacks in Egypt appearedto be against foreigners rather than the tourism industry,which Islamist militants targeted in Egypt in the 1990s.

"What happened today was against foreigners and not against tourism. It's very close to what happened in Saudi Arabia, inKuwait and in Qatar," said Dia Rashwan, referring to otherattacks in recent months attributed to Islamist militants.

I had to think for a minute about the difference between targetting tourism and targetting foreigners. If you're targetting tourism you're targetting the Egyptian regime. In other words the intent is to cripple the tourism industry and deprive the government of much needed foreign currency. If you're targetting foreigners you're targetting Western regimes. You're killing Americans to send a message to America, not to send a message to the Egyptian regime. It's a fine line if you ask me. Attacking tourists in Khan al-Khalili seems like an attack on tourism just as much as it is an attack on foreigners.

I imagine the Egyptian government would be somewhat more comfortable with yesterday's bombing being classified as an attack on foreigners, as opposed to an attack on tourism, because in that case it's not the target of the hostility. Secondly, it reinforces that what's happening is not a revival of the insurrection of the 1990s-- which targetted primarily the Egyptian regime (tourists were targetted only as a mean of hitting the regime) and was not the work of angry, depressed, crazed individuals, but rather the coordinated efforts of an organization.

As for Dia Rashwan, his is a name you'll see lots more if these bombings continue. He's the Al Ahram Center's resident expert on Islamic movements and one of perhaps four frequently quoted Egyptian experts on the subject (the other three being ex-Gamaa Islamiya lawyer Montasser Al Zayat, Al Hayat's Cairo bureau chief Muhammad Salah, and AUC professor Emad Shahin). Radwan is a kindly old man, but I think he lost a lot of credibility after the Taba bombings when he was quoted on Al Jazeera and in several western newspapers, and even published a column, claiming that there was no question that Israel was responsible for the bombings.

Also, if we follow Rashwan's logic for the Taba bombings that, the entity with the most to gain is the responsible party, then I should think Rashwan would be making some rather indelicate accusations in coming days.

The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the bombings in a statement and had this to say:

This act should not distract our attentions from completing our march of development and it should not be a reason to suspend our society's movement towards realizing its goals and its demands for freedom, democracy and justice.

Finally, notice the discrepancy between the Associated Press background to the bombing and Reuters' background:

Associated Press:

The attack in the Egyptian capital follows a long period of calm since security forces suppressed Islamic militants who in the 1990s carried out bombings and shootings against tourists in their campaign to bring down the government.

The last significant attack on tourists in Cairo was in 1997, a year when another 62 were killed in another attack in Luxor.


There was no immediate indication of the motive for the attack, the latest in a series against tourists in Egypt, a close ally of the United States.

So which was it? Did the attack follow a long period of calm or was it the latest in a series?