By Jason Patrick
International media outlets reported that Shadi al-Menei, the leader of the Egyptian terrorist organization Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM) died with five other members of his group during a firefight in central Sinai on 23 May. Egyptian security forces reportedly conducted a counterterrorism operation in the area at the time of his death. However, the connection between his death and the operation is unconfirmed.
Although ABM has been active since 2011, the United States Department of State designated ABM a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April 2014. The organization increased its operations following the July 2013 ouster of former president Mohammed Mursi and has expanded its anti-government operations to the targeting of civilians in Cairo, as well as in the Sinai Peninsula.
Menei’s death comes just days before the Egyptian national elections. Although ABM and the now-banned Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood hotly contest the legitimacy of elections held after Mursi’s forced removal, it is unclear what effect Menei’s death will have on potential terrorist attack plans targeting the election.
In a mid-May interview, presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi acknowledged that Egypt is at war with terrorist groups attempting to destabilize the country. He further called upon the United States to resume the $1.3 billion annual military aid package that Washington suspended following the toppling of the Mursi government. The interim government in Cairo has maintained thorny relations with the U.S. and the European Union since July 2013, but does not seek to alienate its Western partners.
The interim government has received significant criticism from Western governments, as well as from human rights organizations, particularly following mass death sentences levied against members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In late April, Amnesty International emphasized “grave flaws” in the Egyptian justice system after confirming death sentences for 37, imposing life sentences on 491, and upholding previous death sentences against an additional 683 for their alleged roles in the violence surrounding the July overthrow of the previous government.
It is unlikely that the soon-to-be al-Sisi-led government will be able to appease the opposition or groups such as ABM and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, security forces will probably rely heavily on draconian Mubarak-era methods to suppress the threat of violent opposition. While these efforts will surely mitigate the preponderance of attacks, they will further exacerbate anti-government sentiments among the opposition and likely will force anti-government groups to rely on small-scale attacks such as those witnessed recently in Cairo indiscriminately targeting local security and civilians alike.