After the excessive terrorist attacks on Egypt, Al-Sisi’s counter-terrorism policies have been questioned. The years of violence that followed the military coup since 2013 didn’t end or even contained as Egypt’s military general promised. However, violence and terrorist attacks have doubled raising the debate on whether Egypt’s policies combating terrorism are effective or not.
On 24 November 2017, Egypt witnessed one of its deadliest-ever terrorist attacks. Over 300 people were killed and several hundred injured by a gang of militants inside the Rawdah mosque in Bir-Al-Abed in northern Sinai.
In addition, a month before the attack, 54 security forces members were ambushed 135 km south west of Cairo, a clear sign of a failing counterinsurgency policy.
Back in 2015, Open democracy-the independent British media platform-cited numerous analysts who had predicted the deterioration in the security situation in Egypt early on based on the quality of policies in place.
Alan Krueger of Princeton and Jitka Maleckova of Charles University in Prague have stated that Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists.
They also mentioned that terrorism is a response to the absence of political freedom saying,“ we suggest that it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and longstanding feelings of indignity and frustration that have little to do with economic circumstances.” In fact, few attempted to give Egypt the benefit of the doubt, writing off earlier failures as poor execution.
Accordingly, Open democracy wrote now after the latest attack that “The debate is now over,” it said.
In its article titled:“Egypt: do you really want to counter terrorism?”, Open democracy said literally, “There is no doubt that Egypt’s policies have failed.
“Sisi’s vow to use “brute force” to end extremist activity in Sinai indicates that no amount of policy advice will sway current leadership from its trajectory, “it said.
It also added that “Yet even as the outlook is bleak, a few other questions currently surround the latest terror incident and have not been as conclusively resolved.”
The article raises the question about whether terrorism is a result of ideology or repression. In fact, this is one of the more enduring questions in Egypt (and indeed other Middle Eastern countries) centres around whether extremism is a result of repressive measures undertaken routinely by the state or whether the violence is inherently and unavoidably present within the fabric of the ideology of Islam.
Some placed all the blame purely on the ideology following the Rawdah Mosque attack and many previous others, claiming that these violent actions come from violent ideas that are derived from violent verses. They mainly concluded that violence is a consequence of ideology and Islam in particular, irrespective of repression.
On the other side, others claimed that is repression that radicalizes people and causes the extreme violent reaction.
While the debate focuses on whether to blame the state or Islamist ideology, simplifying either side would not be accurate.
Blaming repression for the rise of extremism can be countered by the quality of the violence that is produced.
Open Democracy said,” Many around the world have been repressed but have not reacted with indiscriminate violence and rhetoric that accompanies extremists who associate themselves with Islam.”
“The violence is too righteous and extreme to simply be a reaction to repression. To blame Islamist ideology alone does not fully explain it because the majority of Muslims are peaceful and numerous Muslim countries have not devolved into producing such extremist groups,” it said.
The truth is that ideology never develops in a vacuum. It largely depends on the context surrounding it.
In order to grow in numbers, whatever movement that subscribes to an ideology must be fed with new supporters.
“Repression is the simplest way to radicalize, ”said Open Democracy.
In Egypt, “While the extremists can be blamed for their violent actions and the murder of innocents, we cannot blame them for being provided with the perfect breeding ground for new recruits.”
That can almost certainly “all be blamed on the state along with a culture of violence and the shutting down of real debate as a modus-operandi.”
To What Extent Does the State Hold the Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack?
Another question is raised on the surface after the Rawdah deadliest attack which is whether the state is responsible for this incident in particular.
Some might say how can the state protect people praying in a mosque on a Friday with so many mosques all over the country and limited security personnel in comparison.
With all the roads in Egypt, how is it possible to protect all of them? Besides, we cannot always blame the state for everything.
In this context, this argument raises the question, when do we accept the failed policies of a state and start holding the state accountable? Can we really isolate the incident of the mosque shooting from the general context in northern Sinai for which the state is responsible?
In fact, this argument can’t be accepted in this case place as Egypt is in a state of Emergency and especially in Sinai after ISIS has issued threats to the inhabitants of the town of Rawdah for practising Sufism, and no additional protection was provided to the town.
In this case, “How can one then not blame the State? “according to Open Democracy.
It is worth to mention that days earlier Days earlier the security apparatus was busy cracking down on activists and the owner of a satirical Twitter account.
“These resources should have been dedicated to identifying extremists and thwarting their plans instead of cracking down on the civil and peaceful opposition,” it said.
The debate persists. The state’s policies fail to counter extremism. They offer a perfect breeding ground for radicals and vendetta.
In other words, there is also another responsibility for the sate for not developing in Sinai until now. What appears to be a long-standing policy of not investing in the development of north Sinai has also limited people’s opportunities and resources.
In addition, numerous Sinai inhabitants have been subjected to indiscriminate attacks by the state as well as forced evictions.
Accordingly, although the nature of the attack is highly difficult to control because of physical and geographical challenges.” But is it possible to divorce the state’s responsibility from physical security challenges? Is it possible to view the terror incidents in isolation of the context created by state policies and actions?”
Is This Failure Intentional or a Result of General Incompetence?
A third question was raised, “Is the failure intentional or a result of general incompetence that is ever present in Egypt’s institutions?
While policies are far from perfect, it is unlikely that they are carried out efficiently.
Open Democracy stated, “The present practices are demonstrably doing more harm than good. Is it possible that the Egyptians are unaware of this? Or is it simply, when all you have is a hammer all your problems look like a nail?”
In fact, the argument for incompetence is a strong one since Egyptian security forces are poorly trained and the top brass often resorts to rhetoric revolving around conspiracy theories, such as fourth-generation warfare, as a scapegoat for their failures.
In addition, it is also widely known that incompetence permeates all segments of the Egyptian government, and the military and police are not immune.
“However, the intentionality of maintaining a state of crisis when it comes to terrorism is not without merits, ”according to Open Democracy.
In fact, al-Sisi’s mandate came from fighting terrorism rather than elections.
As a result, despite al-Sisi’s draconian regime, western leaders turned blind eyes to his bloody human right records claiming that extremism is a threat to the entire world with the rise of the Islamic State.
In this context, “World leaders have been happy to turn a blind eye towards any rights abuses in exchange for a proxy to help them fight extremists.”
With poor political and economic performance, the continued threat of terror becomes the raison d’etre for Sisi’s rule.
Indeed, before rising to power, “al-Sisi displayed an accurate understanding that violent policies such as those adopted by his regime can only lead to increased violence and alienation of the north Sinai population. He understood that forced evictions and indiscriminate targeting of north Sinai residents would create violence,” said Open Democracy.
Islamic State prisoners find ample opportunity within Egyptian prisons to recruit.
Enforced disappearances are common in north Sinai.Following his release after being forcibly disappeared by the army in 2015, Nabil Elboustany recounted his experience in the Azouli prison in Ismailia.
He described how hundreds or maybe even thousands of north Sinai residents were being forcibly disappeared by the army, mistreated and then released.
Elboustany’s testimony was recently echoed by Ibrahim Halawa an Irish citizen who spent four years in jail before being acquitted. Halawa witnessed the radicalization inside Egypt’s prisons and the strong growth of the Islamic State within its walls.
In the end, the questions surrounding the climate of extremism and violence in Egypt are important to understanding what may need to be done if a more competent and less obstinate administration were to tackle the problems of extremism and terrorism.
“Until then, more will suffer the consequences of the current context and many will be caught between the proponents of brute force,” said Open Democracy.