BEIRUT — The Egyptian army’s escalating crackdown on supporters of the country’s ousted Muslim Brotherhood government is being seized on by many radical Islamists as proof that violence, not democracy, is the only solution to the region’s problems.
In the days since Egypt’s military toppled the country’s first freely elected government, jihadist groups in the region and elsewhere have rushed to assert the futility of elections and Western-style democracy, in statements and in chat forums on jihadi Web sites.
Among them is Afghanistan’s Taliban, which issued a statement Monday condemning the coup against President Mohamed Morsi after Egyptian troops killed at least 51 of his supporters.
“It has become clear,” said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Yusuf, that “so-called elections, the demands of the people, and justice, freedom, security and peace are merely hollow chants and slogans used by the West and the secularists to trick the people,”
Others had earlier asserted similar sentiments. “When will the Muslim Brotherhood wake up from their deep slumber and realize the futility of their efforts at instituting change?” asked the Somali militant group al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, in a comment posted on Twitter after Morsi’s overthrow last week.
“Change comes by the bullet alone; NOT the ballot,” the group said in another tweet.
At least two new jihadi groups have been formed in a bid to counter the challenge to the Brotherhood. Within hours of the shootings Monday, a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades of Egypt declared that it had been created to counter the “criminality” underway in the country.
Another hitherto unknown group, calling itself Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt, issued a similar statement last week.
“The truth that is apparent to every reasonable person is that it is a war declared against Islam in Egypt,” it said of the military’s removal of Morsi.
Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which has been monitoring these and numerous other responses by jihadi groups to the events in Egypt, said there is no confirmation of the groups’ existence or of any increased jihadist activity linked to the turmoil.
But, she added, “this is a great recruitment tool for them. The bottom line is that a lot of incitement is going on.”
It is also too early to tell whether the calls will have any effect beyond Egypt’s borders at a time when the war in Syria has already mobilized thousands of young men across the region to volunteer to fight and extremists in Iraq are in the midst of an intensified bombing campaign that has killed thousands in recent months, said Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In Syria, government opponents long ago abandoned peaceful demonstrations after troops repeatedly fired on them, and Islamist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda are gaining influence as the war drags into a third year with no sign of a resolution.
The biggest effect, Cook said, may be in Egypt, where Islamist extremists affiliated with the Gamaa Islamiya fought a low-
level insurgency in the 1990s before agreeing to lay down their arms in 2003.
Egypt is awash with weapons that have been smuggled across the border from Libya, and “given the political dynamics, you can see the outlines of how this might emerge,” he said.