I was bitterly shocked by the news of the machine gun attack on the church in Warraq. This does not mean that I was unaware of terrorist attacks in Sinai, and it does not make the victims of the church attack more important than those of other attacks on security institutions. But whether we like it or not, there is a definite symbolism in attacking churches and an alarming sense of jeopardy when the attacks are in the heart of Cairo. However, interpreting the attack on the church as mere discrimination against Copts reflects an extremely narrow vision. The attack on the Church last night presents us with two facts: first, the terrorism threat Egypt is facing is certainly progressing very rapidly and second, the strategies put forth to counter this threat are clearly not effective.
Violence against Copts is one of Egypt’s ugly social realities. The truth is, there will always be, just like there has always been, discrimination against Copts. Sometimes, this discrimination is not a matter of radical religious discourse as much as it is a matter of majority-minority interactions. This disturbing fact is the reason why discrimination needs to be clearly defined and blatantly stated in different legal texts, starting with the Egyptian Constitution and ending with an inclusive anti-discrimination law. Although last night’s attack does not signal discrimination against Copts as much as it signals a progressing national threat, Coptic symbols have indeed become more prone to terrorist attacks within the current context.
When terrorism threats started surfacing last July, the majority of attacks were in Sinai. It was logical for the attacks to surface there since there was an evident lack of security in Sinai throughout Morsi’s administration. The availability of a strategic landscape in Sinai was an opportunity for organised violence to mature. But what started mainly in Northern Sinai was apparently diffused all over Egypt during the past three months. Attacks spread from Sinai to Sharqiya, Ismailiya and Cairo, and it won’t be long before the geographical diffusion is complete as long as effective strategies to counter the problem remain absent.
More signs of progression are seen in operational tactics used in attacks and how they evolve. Using homemade explosives that are blown up remotely was the most common tactic at first. The targets were usually police stations in remote areas or places without heavy security presence. With time, the targeting of more sensitive and more secure locations, like the military intelligence buildings, began. At the same time, operational progression began as well with attacks carried out through direct personal confrontation instead of remote involvement, which means that we are facing terrorists who are willing to take more risks day after day. What is extremely alarming regarding the church attack of last night is how individuals were the major targets. Investigations carried out so far say that there were no bullets fired at the church building, but 18 machine gun bullets were aimed at the crowd surrounding the church. This, in turn, means that the ultimate goal of the attack was not to cause a general state of fear; it was targeting Human life. This disturbing observation suggests that “crowds” in general have become more prone to terrorist attacks.
This obvious progression suggests that the strategies used to counter terrorism so far are not as effective as they should be. No one is assuming that there are strategies that will end this nightmare in a couple of months, unless the state turns into another terrorist organisation, but there are strategies that could limit the progression of terrorism, and ones that are more inclusive than the current “narrow” strategies. So far, the strategies used to counter terrorism are solely security-based. The political, economic, religious and cultural aspects of countering terrorism remain out of strategic focus until today.
Anti-terrorism policies are becoming like everything else: a matter decided by the different security institutions ruling Egypt at the current moment. The nature of the battle against terrorism or of Egypt’s fourth generation warfare is not merely a military one. Therefore, it is extremely closed-minded to think that the solution is only a matter of harsher security measures, tougher terrorism laws or giving security personnel unchecked limitless authority to face terrorist threats.
“Military boots”, or the coercive rule of security institutions, will not conclude Egypt’s war against terrorism. Similarly, blind generalisation is extremely dangerous, since all it does is create more enemies and generate more violence. The type of battle we are fighting requires tools that are not even in the military’s hands (at least theoretically). Military operations are needed to face some of the threats posed by terrorism, but measures that guarantee political tolerance, equal access, freedom of expression, and freedom of organisation and association are equally needed. In this battle, the individual’s role is no different than the role of the organisation or institution. Our pursuit of the truth and our awareness of our individual and public rights are essential components of the battle. Individual political participation and social responsibility are means to hold those who are truly responsible accountable for their actions.
Egypt needs to re-asses its counter-terrorism strategies and develop a multi-dimensional strategy to face the rapidly growing threats. Otherwise, things will be uglier than they already are.