1. A high-profile political assassination
While he may be as well-guarded as any top official, Egyptian Defense Minister (and de facto ruler) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is squarely in the Muslim Brotherhood’s crosshairs. He is, after all, the face of the coup that toppled Morsi, and he later called Egyptians to the streets to seek their “authorization” for a subsequent crackdown that killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters.
The Brotherhood hasn’t been shy in calling for his death. Brotherhood protests frequently feature images of Sisi with a noose around his neck for “treason,” and the Brotherhood-backed Anti-Coup Alliance recently tweeted, “the people want the murderer executed,” in an apparent reference to Sisi. Moreover, in December, a pro-Brotherhood website even reported excitedly (double exclamation points and all) that an assassination attempt against Sisi had already taken place, adding that Sisi was hastily flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment, where he refused to have his leg amputated so that he wouldn’t have to retire from the military. (This was, of course, false.) And while the Brotherhood has been implicated in political assassinations previously, such as the 1948 murder of Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nuqrashi, it is hardly the only or best-equipped organization that wants Sisi dead: The Egyptian general is currently overseeing a military campaign against Sinai-based jihadists, who attempted to assassinate Egypt’s interior minister in Cairo in early September and have repeatedly attacked security installations, most recently in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura and governorate of Sharkiya.
If Sisi were assassinated, it would have two effects. First, the military would likely respond with an even more severe crackdown on the Brotherhood than the one that is already underway. This is precisely what happened following a 1954 assassination attempt on Gamal Abdel Nasser that was blamed on the Brotherhood: thousands of Muslim Brothers were detained, tortured, and executed over the next two decades. Second, given the current expectation that Sisi will either run for president or act as the kingmaker, his assassination would catalyze intense competition among various security officials who would vie—directly or via proxies—for the presidency. This would further weaken Egypt’s already disjointed state, raising the prospect of even greater violence.
2. Protests and/or violence at polling stations
Egyptians are widely expected to approve the referendum of the new constitution in January—no referendum in Egyptian history has ever resulted in a “no.” But the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies reject the post-Morsi political process and are reportedly planning to thwart the plebiscite by protesting at polling stations and preventing voters from entering the booths. While one must take reports about the Brotherhood in the Egyptian press with a heavy chunk of salt, the organization’s statements in recent weeks comparing voting in the referendum to “participation in bloodshed” suggest that aggressive action is possible. And the fact that Egyptian security forces are planning for this possibility is hardly reassuring: Egypt’s notoriously brutal police would likely engage the obstructionists violently, and those areas in which Islamists are particularly strong might be able to hold off government forces for a while, as occurred in the Giza town of Kerdasa in September.