Attacks in Egypt May Hinder Democracy

Monday's bombings could have serious consequences for Egyptian politicians — and the attacks may strengthen those who oppose democratic reforms in Egypt. Robert talks with Walid Kaziha, a political science professor at the American University-Cairo.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

What might be the consequences of the bombings in Dahab for Egyptian politics? I'm going to put that question now to Professor Walid Kazziha, who's a professor of political science at the American University, Cairo. Professor Kazziha, what might President Mubarak do in response to this bombing, which is by no means the first?

Dr. WALID KAZZIHA (American University, Cairo): I think this has to be seen within the context of the present controversy between the government and the opposition parties and a good part of public opinion about the necessity of eliminating the emergency laws that have been installed since 1981, the assignation of Sadat. Now, the government is trying to replace the emergency laws by anti-terrorism law, and opposition parties are looking at this is as a way of going out from the door and coming back through the window. And there is a controversy. And that incident is going to strengthen the hands of the government.

SIEGEL: It would be further argument, the bombing in Dahab, that there should be some kind of continued emergency under a terrorism or whatever you call it.

Dr. KAZZIHA: That's right.

SIEGEL: A pattern to terror attacks in Egypt seems to be going after tourist attractions. Is there a great deal of discussion among the Islamists in Egypt that European and other tourists to Egypt should be a target of their violence?

Dr. KAZZIHA: I think the violence in Sinai, in particular due to the closeness of eastern Sinai to Palestine, and sentiment that provokes. And at the same time, on previous occasions, the government reaction to incidents that took place last year and the year before had been overwhelming and may have provoked some of the tribesmen to be taking anti-government position. And so, one thing is leading to another.

SIEGEL: The first point you were saying was, because the Sinai, you're saying, because it's close to Israel. If there are Israeli tourists at a hotel, that's a reason that Islamists would attack it?

Dr. KAZZIHA: That's right.

SIEGEL: But I'd like you to elaborate on the distinction you just made about local tribes. You're saying that people make a distinction in Egypt between Cairo-based Islamist groups and local Bedouins, who might get involved in such actions?

Dr. KAZZIHA: I think the general feeling is that terrorist groups are small units that are isolated from each other. But what had happened in Sinai in previous cases is that the government retaliated overwhelmingly against the tribesmen, and that may have led some of the younger people among them to form new cells that are operating on their own.

SIEGEL: When you say retaliated overwhelmingly against the tribesmen, what happened?

Dr. KAZZIHA: Well, last July when there was a terrorist act in Sharm El-Sheikh, the government takes security measures that are of a blanket type, that is, they go and there is a large number of people. Some estimated at that time like 3,000. And, in the course of doing this, they do antagonize a lot of tribesmen.

SIEGEL: Do you think that at this moment, President Mubarak might be communicating to the United States, I think we have to cool it a little bit on becoming a more open democratic society, we still have some old problems that have been with us now for 25 years, so let's lay off the democratization campaign for awhile?

Dr. KAZZIHA: That's right. I think that this incident, as well as the incidents previously, play into the hands of the existing regime and it will utilize it and it will exploit it eternally to consolidate.

SIEGEL: Well Professor Kazziha, thank you very much for talking with us this way.

Dr. KAZZIHA: You're most welcome.

SIEGEL: That's political scientist Walid Kazziha, of the American University in Cairo.

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