Egypt faces challenging task containing ISIS presence in region

The unraveling security situation in parts of Egypt is drawing new attention to the fight against Islamist extremists in the region.

Terror activity has been on the rise in recent weeks in Egypt. Last week, the country’s military fought jihadists affiliated with ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula.

Like Libya, ISIS and other jihadist groups are trying to make a play to gain influence in the country in hopes of expanding its so-called “caliphate,” foreign policy experts tell’s “Defcon 3.”

“The Egyptian government sees itself squeezed between the Islamic State or its local affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula and then another Islamic State affiliate on the western border with Libya, while at the same time, they are dealing with unrest and dissatisfaction from the Muslim Brotherhood from across the country,” said Oren Kessler, deputy research director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

On June 29, Hisham Barakat, Egypt's top prosecutor, was assassinated. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack.

“When you look at the sophistication of the attack and murder of the Egyptian prosecutor, that’s the kind of bomb that should frighten us all,” said Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence at the global intelligence firm Stratfor.

Burton, who was also a former U.S. State Department counterterrorism agent, says he can “recall working cases in Egypt years ago and you would have a tremendous amount of cooperation, at times with the Egyptian security apparatus and the one thing that frightens me today is that I’m not so sure that same kind of liaison exists … these are the kind of allies you do need in order to make sure we are safe and secure here in the United States.”

Kessler believes Cairo doesn’t see “Washington is no longer a reliable ally.” This new scenario, he says, came about after the U.S. halted military aid to Egypt after the crackdown following Mohammed Morsi’s ouster as president. “This aid was withheld at a time when Egypt needed it most, so it's unsurprising Egypt has gone to France, Russia, and various other places instead of Washington.”

Experts are divided over how successful Sisi’s tactics have been in clamping down on extremists in Egypt.

“He has enough political capital to do the things he wants to do, but his support is eroding,” said Kessler. Targeting groups “who have criticized his regime have alienated quite a number of Egyptians, who otherwise would be well disposed to the stability he claims to bring."

Looking ahead, Burton says to expect “to see more of the same kind of internal chaos that we have seen so far.”