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Egypt and the Destruction of Churches: Strategic Implications

Egypt and the Destruction of Churches: Strategic Implications is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

By George Friedman

Over the past few days, Christian churches have been attacked in at least two countries — Nigeria and Egypt — while small packages containing improvised explosive devices were placed on the doorsteps of Christian families in Iraq. Attacks against Christians are not uncommon in the Islamic world, driven by local issues and groups, and it is unclear whether these latest attacks were simply coincidental and do not raise the threat to a new level or whether they indicate the existence of a new, coordinated, international initiative. There is a strong case to be made for the idea that there is nothing new in all of this.

Yet I am struck by the close timing of events in three distant and dispersed countries. Certainly, Egyptian intelligence services are looking for any regional connections (e.g., whether Iraqi operatives recruited the Egyptian bomber). While there have been previous bombings in Egypt, they have focused on tourists, not churches. What is important is this: If the recent attacks are not coincidental, then a coordinated campaign is being conducted against Christian churches that spans at least these countries. And it is a network that has evaded detection by intelligence services.

Obviously, this is speculative. What is clear, however, is that the attack on a church in one country — Egypt — is far from common and was particularly destructive. Egypt has been relatively quiet in terms of terrorism, and there have been few recent attacks on the large Coptic Christian population. The Egyptian government has been effective in ruthlessly suppressing Islamist extremists and has been active in sharing intelligence on terrorism with American, Israeli and other Muslim governments. Its intelligence apparatus has been one of the mainstays of global efforts to limit terrorism as well as keep Egypt’s domestic opposition in check.

Therefore, the attack in Egypt is significant for no other reason than that it happened and represents a failure of Egyptian security. While such failures are inevitable, what made this failure significant was that it occurred in tight sequence with attacks on multiple Christian targets in Iraq and Nigeria and after a threat al Qaeda made last month against Egyptian Copts. This was a warning, which in my mind increases the possibility of coordinated action, but the Egyptians failed to block it. Read the rest of this entry »

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