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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

IT Auditor

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: IT Auditor , Information Governance, NHS...

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform