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Sep 16, 2013 | 21:02 GMT

Increasing Religious Violence in Egypt

Egyptian troops stormed the Egyptian town of Delga Sept. 16, sealing off all entrances, arresting dozens and imposing a daytime curfew. The town had reportedly experienced a series of violent attacks by hardline Islamists against the Christian population for two months. The governor of the province has reported that 10 other towns have also been experiencing weakened state control and religion-motivated violence since President Morsi's ouster. The proliferation of religious violence in Egypt, in addition to militancy, is likely to increase as it is another manifested consequence of politically sidelining Islamists.

The removal of the former Egyptian president spurred protests by pro-Morsi and pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters and also resulted in radical Islamists taking to violence to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. This violence was intensified after the large-scale and deadly military crackdown of Muslim Brotherhood protests Aug. 14, which incited an even bigger uptick in violence against Coptic Christians throughout the country. More than 40 Coptic churches were attacked across Egypt, with 20 of those occurring in the Upper Egypt town of Delga. 

News reports indicated that radical Islamists became so brazen in their attacks in Delga that the security forces did not feel they were capable of taking on the Islamists. However, Stratfor has received indications that the army could have entered the town and arrested the Islamist perpetrators Aug. 22 but that they dramatized the situation by spreading exaggerated rumors about the persecution of Copts to justify the operations.

Either way, military offensives against Islamists in Delga and other towns experiencing similar religious violence will require more time and resources from the armed forces at a time when they are already attempting to combat several security threats. Currently, the military is involved in a large-scale operation in the Sinai Peninsula against Salafi jihadists and radical tribesmen, who launch near daily attacks against security forces. In addition to the increase of attacks in the Sinai, there has been a rise in violence on security forces and infrastructure in mainland Egypt — which is an especially worrisome trend for the military.

This general increase in militancy against the government has stemmed primarily from radical Islamists who have become disenchanted with the use of democracy to achieve political goals. While attacks in the Sinai have increased due to the ongoing military campaign and view that Egypt is working with Israel against the jihadists, a rise in religious violence marks another outlet through which politically sidelined Islamists can express their discontentment.

Currently, the second largest Islamist group, al Nour party, is threatening to pull out of the Constituent Assembly, which is tasked with proposing amendments to the constitution. Should the group decline to participate and fail to come to an understanding with the interim government, it could result in more disgruntled Islamists who run the risk of being radicalized toward carrying out violent attacks both in the Sinai and in mainland Egypt. To counter this trend, the military will continue its sweeping crackdowns and large-scale arrest campaigns, especially during the next two months while the state of emergency is still in play.

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