A recently formed group claimed responsibility for the killing of a low-ranking policeman in 6th of October City on the outskirts of Cairo last Thursday.
The group calling itself Hassm (Arabic for determination, and short for the Movement of Egypt’s Forearms), published pictures of the dead body on their Facebook page, alongside photos of his personal belongings.
This is the third operation claimed by the group since it announced its founding in mid-July.
Activities by groups like Hassm have increased in parallel with a decline in the operations of the Popular Resistance Movement, which had been one of the most notable groups associated with violence against police and political figures. The Popular Resistance Movement was itself formed in a merger of five groups on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution in 2015.
The trend of a decline in operations by the more known of these groups comes at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood is riven with unprecedented divides and struggle over its leadership.
These groups known as “special operations committees” became more active after the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 and have semi-formal ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
An investigation by Mada Masr showed how following the escalation of internal disputes in the Brotherhood and the security crackdown, these groups moved away from the centralized operations of the Brotherhood coming to work almost independently.
Different views on the utility of political violence lie at the core of the divisions between the two main opposing wings of the Brotherhood leadership. At the end of last year, the conflict escalated into an actual split with each side issuing statements in the name of the Brotherhood and each with a base of support and control over some local branches.
Hassm started its activities in mid-July with the killing of Mahmoud Abdel Hameed, head of investigations in the Tamya district of Fayoum. On August 1, the group claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempt of the former Mufti Ali Gomaa outside his home in 6th of October City. The group published a picture of two of its fighters during the operation as well as pictures of what it said were explosives mounted in the surrounds of the Police Club in Damietta, early September.
The geographical context of the group’s activities is similar to that of other groups, with operations mainly taking place in Giza, Fayoum, Beni Suef and Sharqiya.
A former Muslim Brotherhood leader in a city in the Delta previously told Mada Masr that three leaders of the Brotherhood supported the use of violence as a strategic choice at the end of 2014 during crisis management meetings. The three leaders were also responsible for the areas in which operations by militant groups have been carried out.
Since its founding, the Popular Resistance Movement has been engaged in several violent operations increasing the rate of violence to reach 90 attacks in July 2015 alone. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) a DC-based think tank, noted in its annual report that violent attacks in the first half of 2015 exceeded the total number of attacks in the previous two years.
In the TIMEP security report on the second quarterly of 2016, however, there was a 50 percent decrease in the rate of violence outside of Sinai in comparison with the first quarter. Most of these operations were concentrated in Cairo and Giza, and with fewer in governorates such as Fayoum and Beni Suef.
The report attributed this decline to a decreased period of activity of the Popular Resistance Movement, coinciding with the organizational feuds in the Muslim Brotherhood across the country.
Groups such as Hassm are emerging to fill the gap.
Hassm, like the Popular Resistance Movement, uses light arms and rudimentary explosives, while the Islamic State which is more organized and has access to more advanced weaponry.
Hassm departs from the Popular Resistance Movement in employing an Islamist discourse. The Popular Resistance Movement had highlighted political grievances in its operations. This was clear, for instance, in the message Hassm sent congratulating the Mujahedeen (fighters) in the Levant after liberating Aleppo in Syria from the regime forces of President Bashar al-Assad in August.
The group seems also to be open to other similar groups. It gave its blessing to an operation by another group operation targeting a police checkpoint in Monufiya, killing three policemen. Hassm also welcomed the forming of a new militant group called “Lewaa al-Thawra.” (The Banner of the Revolution) in August.