A former Egyptian army officer suspected of masterminding the assassination of a top Egyptian prosecutor has released a propaganda video calling for Islamists to declare holy war on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, calling him a “new pharoah” who has overrun the mostly-Muslim country with “sorcerers” looking to change “our religion.”
Hisham al-Ashmawy, identified in the video as Abu Omar al-Muhajir al-Masri, “Emir of the Al-Murabiteen group,” appears only in photos in the audio message, dressed in an Egyptian military uniform. He calls for Muslims to rebel against Sisi and laments that Egypt has been “overpowered by the new pharoah.” “All of you must come together to confront your enemy. Do not fear them, but fear Allah if you are truly believers,” Reuters quotes the message as saying.
“Egypt is overpowered by the new pharaoh, and by his soldiers and sorcerers, so that he can follow the path of his ancestor Pharaoh,” the message states, adding that Sisi uses “the most severe forms of torture and affliction against the Muslims” and “the magic of media for his lies and deceit [to change] the religion and facts in the minds of the people.” al-Ashmawy declares Sisi an enemy of “our religion,” despite Sisi himself being Muslim.
The message was posted on July 20, in time for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
al-Ashmawy is believed to be operating with a group loyal to al-Qaeda, the Al Murabitoon. The Long War Journal reports that al-Ashmawy was “likely once a member of Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM),” a group that operates in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula and has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Upon doing so, it seems, al-Ashmawy remained loyal to al Qaeda and took the leadership role at Al Murabitoon.
While no group has taken responsibility for the assassination of top prosecutor Hisham Barakat, al-Ashmawy is a prime suspect. The attack was the assassination of the most prominent figure in Egyptian government since Sisi took power, indicating that, while the Islamic State has ramped up attacks in Sinai and become as significant a problem to Egypt as Muslim Brotherhood followers still loyal to deposed President Mohamed Morsi, al Qaeda factions remain just as dangerous.
Some speculate that the message serves as fundraising fodder as much as terrorist propaganda to scare Egyptian officials. Nabil Na’im, a former leader of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya during the 1990’s, told the news outlet Ahram that he believes the audio message is partially a reminder to would-be funders that Al Qaeda loyalists are still around, still potent, and waiting to receive money that would otherwise go to the Islamic State. “You can see on social media a fight between IS supporters and Al-Qaeda supporters over whether Ashmawy belongs to any of the groups,” he explains. “IS supporters are trying to state that he belongs to them in order to keep the possibility of more funds and money flowing especially after he conducted an operation in Cairo.”
Sisi, the former chief of Egypt’s armed forces, has vowed to eradicate all jihadist elements from Egypt, starting with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the Muslim Brotherhood issued an official declaration of war, calling for Egyptians to “come out in rebellion and in defense of your country” to “destroy the citadels of his [Sisi’s] oppression and tyranny.”
The Islamic State has also called for attacks in Egypt but, true to form, has focused on pre-Islamic Egypt. ISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called it a “religious duty” to destroy the Pyramids at Giza, the Great Sphinx, and all of Egypt’s pre-Islamic monuments.
While Sisi has been a lightning rod for jihadist ire since he became Egypt’s head of state, he angered Islamists most severely in January, issuing a speech calling for a reformation within Islam. Islam today, he said, “is antagonizing the entire world” and becoming “a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.” This, he demanded, must end.