Very scary to see the terrorist attack on tourists in the Khan al Khalil in Cairo yesterday. Haven't seen anything like that since the 1997 Luxor massacre proved so devastating to the Islamist insurgency's reputation. Let's hope that it doesn't augur any renewed Islamist insurgency or attacks on civilians.
Here's the thing, though. Al Arabiya reports today that the Egyptian opposition is afraid that Mubarak is going to use the terrorist attack as an excuse to postpone reforms. Mohammed Akef, guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that the incident "must not be used as a reason to postopone the movement of society towards achiving its goals and its demands for freedom and democracy and justice." Al Arabiya also quotes a statement attributed to the Kifaya movement condemning the attacks, but adding that "it points accusing fingers at the repressive and corrupt forces and the the foreign and domestic hegemony which knows that real democratic change in the hands of the nation and its interests contradicts their illegitimate interests." Mohamed al Sayid Sa'id of the semi-official Ahram Center, saiys that "I'm afraid that the Azhar incident will be used to justify maintaining the state of emergency."
This seems to me a reasonable fear. Mubarak's regime has long used the Islamist threat as his excuse to maintain the state of emergency and to avoid real democratic reforms. There are two different arguments here, which need to be kept distinct.
The first is that Egyptian security forces actually carried out the attack, dressed up as Islamists. That's a conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence... but does anyone doubt that a regime which routinely rounds up suspected Islamists, holds them without charge, and tortures them would be incapable of it?
The second, more widespread and plausible, argument is that the regime will exploit the incident. And that's the one which everyone interested in Egyptian reform has to watch very, very carefully right now.