Egyptian Youth’s Murder in Suez Puts Islamists on Defensive

Egyptian authorities were searching for three bearded men who fatally stabbed a young man as he sat with his fiancee in a garden, prompting Islamists to distance themselves from the attack.

The attack on 20-year-old Ahmed Eid in the port city of Suez led to his death on July 1, one day after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi was sworn in as Egypt’s first civilian president, threatening to deepen suspicions about the Islamists who have grown in strength since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year. It has also heightened fears about the perceived breakdown in security in the 17 months since the uprising.

“My son didn’t deserve to be killed in this brutal way,” Hussein Eid, the young man’s father, said in a phone interview today. “Those who killed a 20-year-old youth standing with his fiancee cannot be religious people. They are criminals.”

Authorities say the victim was attacked in a park after the men approached him and asked him about his relationship to the woman. Interior Ministry officials have not linked the attack to any of the mainstream Islamist groups. Major-General Adel Refaat, the head of security in Suez, was cited by the state-run Al-Ahram today as saying that the “noose was tightening” around the assailants.

“This isn’t a state any more, it’s a jungle,” said Eid. Hundreds gathered for his son’s funeral yesterday in the city, state media reported.

Egypt’s main Islamist groups, who have been viewed with a measure of suspicion and fear by secularists and the country’s Christian minority since Mubarak’s ouster, distanced themselves from the attack. The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on its website condemning the attack.

‘Systematic Defamation’

“Leaking this case now and trying to turn it into a public opinion story, just a few days after Mohamed Mursi was sworn in, is part of a systematic defamation campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists in general, adopted by the security apparatus of the old regime,” Ali Khafagy, the secretary-general of the youth committee of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said by phone.

“They want people to think that Mursi is giving a chance to the rise of fundamentalists and the spread of chaos,” Khafagy said. A coalition of political groups and activists issued a statement also condemning the attack and calling on authorities to quickly bring the attackers to justice.

The incident comes amid a debate over the role of Islamic law in guiding legislation in the country -- an issue being discussed in a committee charged with drafting a new constitution.

Religiosity increased in Egypt over the past 10 years under Mubarak, as the country saw a “slow change in the social norms and values that moved from moderate and inclusive to exclusive and a bit fanatic,” Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst and expert on Islamist movements at Durham University in the U.K., said by phone, adding that cases of religious vigilantism would likely be short-lived.

“It will be a real challenge to the Brotherhood about how to deal with it and how to reinstate the rule of law and sense of state among Egyptians again,” he said. This is not “the norm in Egypt, which has a very strong state and, at some point, the state will act.”

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