Egypt’s deep state might not be as deep as we think

Mark Perry writes: In March 1986, a new and more potent form of hashish began to show up on the streets of Cairo. Called “Bye Bye Rushdie” by the drug lords who peddled it, the hashish was named for recently deposed Interior Minister Ahmed Rushdie, a reformer who had launched a nationwide anti-drug crackdown the previous year. Rushdie had not only declared a war on drugs, he had also sacked ministry officials implicated in the trade, including high-level commanders of Egypt’s Central Security Forces (CSF) — the baton- and shotgun-wielding police who are tasked with keeping public order. And he failed.

On the morning of Feb. 26, thousands of CSF police had stormed the Haram police station and two nearby tourist hotels. The recruits were egged on by their commanders, who had spread a rumor that Rushdie planned to reduce their pay and extend their service. The rebellion spread. Within 24 hours the mutineers had captured most of Giza and loosed a campaign of lawlessness in parts of Cairo. When the CSF captured key installations at Assiut, on the Nile River, police Maj. Gen. Zaki Badr reportedly opened the Assiut channel locks — drowning nearly 3,000 CSF recruits and their leaders.

Stunned by these events, President Hosni Mubarak ordered the military to intervene to restore public order. Tank units took on the mutineers in street battles in Cairo, while Egyptian soldiers stormed three CSF camps — at Shubra, Tora, and Hike-Step. While no one knows for sure, it is estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 CSF personnel were slaughtered, after which Rushdie was unceremoniously fired by Mubarak and replaced with Badr, renowned for his friendship with the president as well as his vicious anti-Islamist views.

Badr ruthlessly culled the CSF of its mutineers, while taking great care to leave in place the CSF’s most corrupt officials — and the drug trade they controlled. So the appearance of “Bye Bye Rushdie,” was a kind of celebration — a way of telling the Cairo drug culture that things had returned to normal.

Understanding the 1986 mutiny is particularly important now, because of what Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s newly installed interim government describes as a lawless campaign in the Sinai launched by a mix of Bedouin tribesman, criminal families, “jihadist terrorists,” and “al Qaeda-linked fighters.” Western reporters have attempted to get a grip on just who these criminal gangs and jihadists are, but without much luck. “It’s anyone’s guess because no one can get there,” a reporter for a major news daily told me via email last week.

But while American journalists may be confused about what’s happening in the Sinai, a handful of senior officers in the U.S. military have been monitoring the trouble closely. One of them, who serves as an intelligence officer in the Pentagon, told me last week that Sinai troubles are fueled not only by disaffected “Bedouin tribes” but also by “Sinai CSF commanders” intent on guarding the drug and smuggling routes that they continue to control nearly 30 years after Rushdie’s attempted crackdown. “What’s happening in Sinai is serious, and it’s convenient to call it terrorism,” this senior officer says. “But the reality is that’s there’s a little bit more to it. What Sinai shows is that the so-called deep state might not be as deep as we think.” [Continue reading…]

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