Egyptian authorities said they tightened security along the Suez Canal after foiling an attack on a passing ship, even as they pressed their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by arresting another top leader.
The failed attack on the Panama-registered Cosco Asia as it crossed the waterway didn’t damage the ship or its cargo, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing Suez Canal Authority head Mohab Mamish. The military dealt “decisively” with the attempt, he said, without giving details. Canal traffic is normal and 55 ships are expected to cross today, Mamish said, according to the news agency.
The reported assault on the waterway that handles about 8 percent of world trade comes as the military-backed government pursues an offensive against the Muslim Brotherhood and militants following the July 3 ouster of Mohamed Mursi from the presidency. More than 1,000 people have died, most of them supporters of the toppled Islamist leader who were killed in a single week in August amid clashes with security forces.
Two days ago, a Brotherhood call for mass protests fizzled because security authorities prevented demonstrators from rallying in a single location. The group, which maintains Mursi was deposed in a military coup, said in an e-mailed statement today that “the era of sleep and rest is over until we take back the revolution.”
A prominent element of the crackdown has been the arrest of top group members, and yesterday, authorities detained Sobhi Saleh, a senior Brotherhood leader, in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, state-run Ahram Gate reported. In all, more than 1,000 Brotherhood members, including its supreme guide, have been arrested, with many facing charges ranging from inciting violence to murder.
Authorities also arrested a top suspected militant who confessed to killing 25 policemen in the Sinai peninsula last month, Ahram Gate said. The militant, known as Adel Habara and sentenced to death in absentia for another attack, recreated the incident for authorities, the news website reported, citing unidentified security officials in Sinai.
The report of an attempted attack on a freighter in the Suez Canal complicates Egypt’s already troubled security situation. Canal Authority spokesman Tarek Hassanein said by phone that he didn’t have additional details and Zhang Jiqing, general manager at the executive division of the Beijing-based COSCO, didn’t return two calls outside normal business hours.
Keeping canal traffic flowing normally became a concern even before Mursi was deposed. The military stepped up security along the waterway months ago, concerned that the political tumult that led to his overthrow would affect canal operations.
The Suez Canal and SUMED pipeline, as the link between Egypt’s ports of Ain Sukhna on the Red Sea and Sidi Kerir on the Mediterranean is known, together handled 3.8 million barrels a day of crude and products, according to 2011 data cited by the International Energy Agency. Most of that traffic was northbound.
The recent unrest has undercut Egypt’s hopes to rally an economy stunted since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011. The latest bouts of violence and the military-backed government’s crackdown have led some key allies, including the U.S. and European Union, to talk about withholding aid.
Planning Minister Ashraf El-Arabi said he thought the West was unlikely to punish Egypt economically, due to its political and economic influence, MENA reported. Even so, he said, the government has a strategy to deal with all possible scenarios through announced plans to promote “national investments.”