Captain Amr's blunder fuels bloody revolt: Police are failing to crush Islamic fundamentalism in upper Egypt, Robert Fisk reports from Assiut

CAPTAIN Amr Mustapha of the Egyptian police has a lot to answer for. In el-Azeiza he forced the locals to contribute money for improved facilities at the local gendarmerie. Then he tied an old man to a tree and beat him up after accusing him of theft. Angry at the behaviour of a local football player, Captain Amr attacked the man in front of a crowd of thousands. But he made his biggest blunder on 2 April, when he ambushed what he thought was a car load of Gemaa Islamiya (Islamic Group) gunmen at el-Gheneum, in upper Egypt.

No one disputes that Captain Amr and his fellow policemen set up a checkpoint in the town and stopped a taxi just after nine in the evening. But there are two versions of what happened next.

In the first, Captain Amr pointed his gun at the driver so aggressively that he accidentally fired a bullet into the car. Believing he had been attacked by one of its occupants, his colleagues opened fire at the vehicle, killing its Christian driver, two other men, and a young woman. According to the second version - favoured, of course, by the state security police - a Gemaa gunman in the car tried to kill Captain Amr and wounded him in the arm, but was himself killed when Captain Amr's comrades opened fire. The woman, the driver and another innocent civilian were killed in what the police describe as 'crossfire'.

But the damage was done. Hundreds of villagers who thought the police had been attacked, and rushed to help them, were appalled to discover the slaughter. And they were enraged when the Egyptian government expressed regret rather than responsibility for the death of the civilians. Islamic fundamentalism in upper Egypt thus gained a few more converts to a war which the police are very definitely not yet winning.

Of the 62 people killed in upper Egypt so far this year, 42 of them were policemen, 10 were from the Gemaa and the other 10 were civilians caught up, like the men and women in Captain Amr's ambush, in the violence. Almost all the killings took place in and around Assiut, the grubby old city on the Nile north of Luxor whose exports of agricultural products, textiles, cement and furniture have failed to earn enough money to rebuild the slums and broken apartment blocks that lie beside the Cairo-Aswan railway tracks. On four occasions, Muslim radicals have bombed and shot up the luxury air-conditioned trains in which tourists are hustled past Assiut.

With its run-down shops and creaking cars, Assiut does not look like a city on the brink of war. There are no tanks in the streets, although the local police chief takes a squad of bodyguards to watch his back when he calls by the Badr hotel for his morning coffee. It is what they cannot see which worries the detectives of Assiut, as Ahmed Rifaat, one of the city's brightest young journalists knows all too well. 'There are two governorates on either side of Assiut that are full of terrorists who have not yet entered the battle,' he says. 'No one knows why. They are not carrying arms at the moment. I think it's a tactic to keep them out of it for the time being. But if they took up arms, things could explode here.'

The Assiut police are well aware of this potential detonation - and that the men of upper Egypt, most of them former military reservists, know how to use guns. Every week hundreds of young men are arrested, most of them only on suspicion or because their names or telephone numbers have been found in the notes and diaries of arrested men. But money is still reaching the fundamentalists from abroad - not from Sudan, as President Mubarak would have the world believe, but, according to some detectives, from the Gulf, especially from Saudi Arabia. One section of the video confession of Adel Abdel Baqi, the reformed Muslim radical shown on national television, was censored by the Ministry of Information in Cairo, apparently because he stated that the Islamic Jihad group had received a cheque for pounds 50,000 from Saudi Arabia.

The humiliation of Bosnia's Muslims has also mobilised support behind the armed Muslim groups around Assiut. Hassan Gad al-Haq, the head of the Assiut lawyers' syndicate, sees the fundamentalist challenge as one of reaction. 'People react to things like Bosnia,' he says.

'They react to unemployment, to the emergency laws - to laws which are so restrictive that they don't allow political parties to influence the society ideologically. These laws, the police arrests, the human-rights abuses and torture by the police, the military courts which try civilians and are all too ready to give death-sentences - people react to all of this. 'If these bad things stopped, I am convinced the violence in upper Egypt would stop. What we are talking about is revenge. The Muslim movements here are a reaction to the government's actions and to bad social conditions.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick