CAIRO, Egypt – A series of deadly blasts tore through Egypt’s capital and the adjacent city of Giza on Friday, killing six people and heightening tensions just a day before the three year anniversary of the massive protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, the autocrat who ruled the Arab worlds’ most populous nation for close to three decades. Friday’s bombings, which also wounded scores of people, came a little over a week after Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that grants the country’s military wide-ranging powers, including the authority to appoint its own leader for the next eight years.
The deadliest of the day’s four blasts occurred outside Cairo’s central police headquarters, where a truck packed with explosives blew up around dawn, killing four people and wounding 76 others, according to the country’s Health Ministry.
Hours later, a rudimentary bomb was thrown at a moving police vehicle near a metro station in Giza, killing one person, the deputy head of Giza security told state-run TV.
Friday morning’s third attack took place when a small explosive device went off at a police station in Talbiya, close to Giza’s pyramids. Later in the day, a small bomb exploded close to the Giza Security Directorate, killing one person and bringing the number of people who died in Friday’s bombings to six. Al-Ahram, Egypt’s flagship newspaper, reported that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis asserted responsibility for the early morning bombing that ripped through the police headquarters in central Cairo.
The militant Islamist group has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a failed attempt in September to assassinate the country’s interior minister as well as a plethora of bombings in 2012 targeting a pipeline carrying Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan.
Friday’s violence comes as competing political factions are preparing to take to the streets for demonstrations commemorating the three year anniversary of the massive protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that forced Mubarak from power on February 11, 2011.
The revolution that toppled Mubarak ushered in a period of chaotic military rule that came to an end in June 2012, when Mohammad Morsi, an Islamist backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, won the country’s presidency, becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. During the military’s 16 months in power, Islamists dominated Egyptian politics, with candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra-conservative Salafist al-Nour party winning control of both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Morsi’s year long stint as president polarized Egypt, as secularists and liberals objected to the Islamist president’s policies and his heavy handed approach to governing. A constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly was approved in a December 2012 referendum boycotted by large swathes of the Egyptian electorate.
In the lead up to the July 3 popularly-backed coup that ousted Morsi, severe fuel shortages caused long lines at gas stations across Egypt, enraging motorists, as a sharp decline in the Egyptian Pound led to skyrocketing domestic prices. Meanwhile, Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves, which the country’s central bank uses to prop up the pound, had fallen to about $15 billion, down from $36 billion when Mubarak was toppled.
Massive demonstrations in late June and early July led the military to step in and seize power. Since the July coup, the country’s military, led by the General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the defense minister who spearheaded the coup that toppled Morsi, has unleashed a brutal crackdown targeting the Brotherhood, which has now been outlawed and designated as a terrorist organization. The Islamist group’s assets have been seized, while its leaders, including Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, have been imprisoned.
In last week’s referendum on a new constitution, 38.6% of the electorate turned out at the polls and the charter was approved by 98.1% of voters who cast ballots in the two-day plebiscite. The new constitution, which was drafted by a constituent assembly whose composition the military helped shape, formally legalizes some of the powers and privileges that the country’s armed forces have long enjoyed. The document stipulates that the defense minister must be an active member of the armed forces and creates a legal framework for trying civilians in military courts.
– Eric Erdahl