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Egyptian Police Tighten Security

THE large number of arrests following Parliamentary Speaker Rifaat Mahgoub's assassination last month is raising concern that angry Muslim fundamentalists may attempt further internal destabilization. In the weeks following Mr. Mahgoub's killing, the security forces rounded up hundreds of Islamic fundamentalists, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Jordanians - over 200 of whom remain in detention.

Most analysts contend the country is secure enough to counter any rumblings of discontent. But continued calm will depend on improvements in Egypt's faltering economy and events in the Gulf crisis, they say.

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``Currently internal stability is not in danger,'' says a Western diplomat. ``The problem is the possible events that may occur in the future.''

The Ministry of Interior responded to Mahgoub's murder by increasing its already tight security measures. Fifty cars and 350 men were added to the forces in Cairo. The police force says it has implemented a strategy whereby areas in the city could be closed off in minutes to block the escape of suspected terrorists.

And the government has allotted an additional $4 million for security troops, according to Gen. Baha Din Ibrahim, first assistant in the Ministry of Interior.

``We are not expecting anything more to happen,'' General Ibrahim says. ``They succeeded in one case, but we must remember the thousands of other events we prevented. They know quite well the police forces are waiting for them. It is not easy for them to move, and if they move, we shall act strongly.''

The police say they are close to solving the mystery of Mahgoub's assassins. Over 300 suspects have been arrested in Cairo and in areas outside the city reputed to be enclaves of Muslim fundamentalist activity. The police allege the extremist Muslim Jihad organization was trying, with outside help, to kill Interior Minister Muhammad Abdel-Halim Mussa, but mistakenly shot Mahgoub.

In addition to strong internal security, Egypt's stability rests on the continued disunity of these different Muslim fundamentalist groups, sources say.

The violent actions of the Jihad lack support. The Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream religious organization with representatives in the Egyptian Parliament under the umbrella of the Labor Party, disdains violence and condemned the brutal killing of Mahgoub.

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The non-Islamic opposition groups do not want a rupture in the state structure because they fear that Islamic groups will fill any political vacuum. ``When there is tension between the state and private interests they expose themselves to the larger threat below,'' says Walid Kazziha, referring to Muslim fundamentalists. Mr. Kazziha is a political science professor at American University in Cairo.

Muslim fundamentalists themselves differ on the subject of stability in Egypt, saying that unrest is near at hand.

``I believe this is the point before the big blast,'' says Mokhtar Noh, a Muslim Brother and former member of the recently disbanded National Assembly. ``The blast has two faces. One a very passive face and another a very active destructive face.''

Violence and arrests by the government will only elicit more dissension on the part of the people, Muslim activists insist. ``The violent son is the seed of a father more violent,'' Mr. Noh says.

Analysts agree that widespread unrest in Egypt is a possibility, if government officials neglect to implement improvements needed for the country's depressed economy.

``[The arrests following Mahgoub's assassination] are a marginal threat. The bigger threat is the economy and how the government masters its resources to get jobs and improve its management,'' says Tahsin Bashir, a political commentator. ``This is the real issue.''

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