What we know about bomb blast near Egypt’s pyramids

A bomb blast hit a tourist bus wounding at least 17 people, including South Africans, in the latest blow to the country's tourism industry. (Reuters)
Updated 20 May 2019

What we know about bomb blast near Egypt’s pyramids

CAIRO: Just a month before the African Cup of Nations, Egypt was hit by a bomb blast that undermined efforts to burnish its image as a bulwark of stability after years of turmoil.
The attack on Sunday near the famed pyramids of Giza is another setback to the North African country’s efforts to revive its key tourism industry after years of turmoil.
A roadside bomb explosion hit a tourist bus driving on a road close to a lavish new museum under construction overlooking the Giza plateau.
The blast shattered many of the bus’ windows, injuring several of its passengers as well as those of a nearby car.
At least 17 people were wounded in the explosion including foreigners.
South Africa’s foreign ministry said three of its nationals were hospitalized.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.
A day later, Egypt announced that its security forces had killed 12 suspected militants in police raids near Cairo.
The interior ministry said the militants belonged to the Hasm movement which is believed to be a splinter faction of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.
Hasm has previously claimed responsibility for attacks targeting security personnel and high-profile figures in Egypt including judges.
“The pyramids area is known to be a bastion for the Muslim Brotherhood. Groups like Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawra (believed to be affiliates of the Brotherhood) have previously claimed responsibility for attacks in this area,” said political science professor Mostafa Kamel Al-Sayed.
Hassan Nafaa, another political science professor at Cairo University, said the authorities’ announcement about the killing of militants was meant to give a semblance of order.

The roadside bomb went off as the bus was being driven in Giza, also causing injuries to Egyptians in a nearby car, medical and security sources said. (AFP)

“The security establishment wants to prove it’s effective and successful... by announcing it killed 12 members of the Hasm movement to give the impression it is behind the attack,” he said.
The ministry’s statement did not directly link the raids to the bus attack.
Egypt’s tourism sector has been hit by a string of previous attacks, most recently in December when three Vietnamese nationals and an Egyptian tour guide were killed in an explosion.
Back then, a home-made explosive device struck their bus which was also driving near the site of the pyramids.
It followed a lull in attacks since the 2017 stabbing of two women on a beach in the seaside resort of Hurghada.
The heaviest blow to Egypt’s tourism sector was in October 2015 when a bomb attack claimed by Daesh downed a Russian airliner shortly after take off from the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh, killing 224 people on board.
Sunday’s attack follows signs of a recovery in the long-suffering tourism industry.
Egypt is set to host the African Cup of Nations from June 21 to July 19 which it sees as an opportunity to show that the country is safe and able to handle an influx of tourists.
Tourism has been reeling from turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.
In 2010, Egypt welcomed a record 14.7 million tourists.
But by 2016 that figure had plunged by nearly two-thirds, to 5.3 million .
The following year witnessed a rebound with arrivals reaching 8.3 million, according to the official statistics agency.
Earlier this month, Tourism Minister Rania Al-Mashat said the key industry accounts for about a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Despite the high stakes, some believe Sunday’s attack is unlikely to have a significant impact on tourism.
“It is a minor incident and it has become common that similar occurrences take place in other areas around the world,” said Sayed.

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.