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What are the existing strategies in the face of terrorism and extremism? - Daily News Egypt

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What are the existing strategies in the face of terrorism and extremism?

Farid Zahran
Farid Zahran

The terrorist events that took place in Sinai on 29 January 2015 have raised major concerns and debates. Concerns were very obvious on TV screens, in newspapers, within political forces, and perhaps also ruling circles.

These concerns, in my opinion, are justified. A year and a half after the first Rafah incident which targeted a military facility and resulted in the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers, and even with more than one large-scale military campaign, and assurances that the security situation in Sinai is under control, we stand today surprised by such a precise broad criminal process.

It’s a matter of serious concerns about the extent to which the state exerts control over the situation in Sinai. On the basis of these specific concerns, debates arise, and voices get louder, with increasing polarisation within society. This time it’s not between political Islam forces and civil forces, it’s within civil forces facing political Islam.

We must make it clear that political Islam forces, from ISIS and the Anti-Coup Alliance (ACA) to the Muslim Brotherhood, are all on the same side, and are all responsible for the events in Sinai according to the latest analysis. I’m not talking about a direct involvement of the Brotherhood in Sinai, I’m talking about the indirect support provided by the Brotherhood and ACA to these attacks. Even if ISIS is attacking the Brotherhood day and night, anyone can see how the Brotherhood TV channels and their pulpits are mobilising insurgents, and even supporting them financially in direct and indirect ways in Sinai and other governorates.

It’s clear that the spreading of violence and terrorism in neighbourhoods and governorates depends on the increased involvement of the Brotherhood’s youth in these violent actions. They are clearly driven towards violence through instigation from pulpits of the Brotherhood, and maybe through orders from some intermediate or superior leaders.

I believe that Brotherhood leaders take responsibility for all the bloodshed, and even for the killing of the Brotherhood’s youth, whose blood was sacrificed. These leaders are responsible for putting the Brotherhood in direct confrontations with the people, even leaders who were never involved in violent actions. The confrontations make Brotherhood members involved in violent actions that some of them disapprove of, leaving them exposed to people’s growing wrath due to instigation by state’s current supporters, a matter that will be discussed in detail later.

On the other hand, what about the lining up of civil forces that managed to overthrow the Brotherhood on 30 June?

Unfortunately, these forces are witnessing a severe division. And if you could watch TV talk shows and distinguish the main ideas from all the screaming, hysteria and mutual accusations, you can conclude that there is a general agreement in Egypt among active powers in the “legitimate” political sphere on the strategy of “confronting terrorism and extremism”.

The meaning of terrorism and extremism in this confrontation is not ISIS or Al-Qaeda only, but also, for the first time in so long, the Brotherhood and all their allies from political Islam forces. Political forces have concrete evidence that the Brotherhood and their allies are involved in violent actions, both directly and indirectly.

The strategy of this confrontation is divided into several other strategies and sub-scenarios existent clearly under the spotlight in media, while the talk about the terrorist escalation in Sinai and most Egyptian governorates is taking place.

The first strategy can be called ‘security confrontation’ strategy. This strategy implies that our only concern for now should be security, and security stands in the way of freedom, while also conflicting with justice, human rights or demands, whether they are of one category or class.

The injustice resulting from this conflict will not be of utmost importance now. We can, however, give rights back to their people at a later time, because we all must sacrifice ourselves for the country. This is according to the deceased actor Alaa Wali El-Din’s words “we are not as important as our home is”.

Recently, this concept changed a lot from sacrificing ourselves for the sake of the “country” to the “state”, this state being the military and the police. Egyptians should, thus, stand by the military and police in their war against the state’s enemies. These enemies are not only the terrorists but they also include the whole world like Qatar, Turkey, US, Europe, and others.

These enemies are powerful and, according to this strategy, what happened in Sinai is completely normal and expected. We already know that this matter is going to take some time, but people have to be patient. This strategy is part of a bigger strategy by the state to govern the country. In other words, it means that the president needs to be left to do his job and that we shouldn’t even worry because things are under control. By this, of course, we mean President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

The second strategy can be called the ‘more security confrontation’ strategy. It is related to the first strategy, but stated that things are not okay, and that what is happening in Sinai means that security is disrupted. This way we must develop the way we fight terrorism and extremism through digging deep into the first strategy.

If the first strategy means using security confrontation and the necessity of support from the people to the military and police in their fight against terrorists, this second strategy implies that we have to intensify the fight.

Unfortunately and honestly, this strategy became more powerful, even more dominant, following the Sinai attacks. We all have seen on television how former major generals were hysterical about the necessity of killing terrorists instead of detaining them and presenting them to the courts in vain.

Some officers were bragging about how they received orders  from one or two ministers at the time to shoot on terrorists at any place possible. These hysterical statements mean that they were not directed against violent terrorist attackers in Sinai specifically. On the contrary, they were extended to include Matariya, Shaimaa El-Sabbagh and everyone like her.

Advocates of this strategy see that the military and police forces should kill everyone who is believed to be related to terrorism; they believe that the people’s role in confronting terrorism and extremism is calling and directly instigating people to kill and burn houses of all those who are believed to be members in the Brotherhood.

Moreover, the fanatics of them assure that confronting terrorism calls for the suppression of those “loudmouthed sceptics who do not want to give the man a break”. So, no need for parties or parliament or politics or the like.

Backstage, and timidly in media, supporters of the first strategy apologetically say to supporters of the second strategy, that the government’s keenness on preserving Egypt’s image in the world’s eyes and having the international opinion on its side, pushes it to keep those politicians and their parties, prevent imprisoning them, prevent killing all Brotherhood members immediately, and finally push the government towards holding parliamentary elections.

Advocates of the first strategy say that if we didn’t need international economic support, we would be more powerful and strict with babbler democratic parties.

However, advocates of the second strategy, who have the louder voice now, are manfully and sharply attacking advocates of the first strategy, framing the fact that the international public opinion is opposing the situation of liberties in Egypt, as part of the global conspiracy against Egypt. They believe that Egyptians are able to confront the whole world.. The people are ready to starve and die defending the state that everybody wants to demolish.

It should be pointed here that what aggregates advocates of the violent confrontation, whether the moderate or the fanatics, is not only the belief that security bodies alone are able to eliminate the extremism and terrorism, but also the belief that the power of security bodies lies in their ability to oppress and intimidate, and that policemen’s prestige is built upon their ability to terrify not only actual suspects or defendants, but also every potential suspect or defendant. This practically means terrifying all the poor people who may be possible criminals. According to the transcendent officer’s class perspective, he and other officers like him grew up believing that they are the masters and owners of the country.

So, it is not an individual mistake when the officer says to the taxi or microbus driver “show me the licences, boy” or “hurry up, you junk”. This is the language that a lot of officers are used to using with poor people, in addition of course, to the language of kicks and slaps in police stations, except during the period that directly followed the revolution.

Before finishing my words about the different security confrontation strategies with all their diversity, I want to refer to the strange irony in the second strategy advocates’ speech. If they admit that the first strategy did not achieve the desired results, why do they not understand that deepening this strategy means repeating the same unaccepted results, in an even worse way? It does not make sense to repeat the same methods and expect different results.

And now, let’s wonder: is there an alternative strategy? What are the assumptions of such strategy, then? What are its tools and methods? And finally, what are its expected results?

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  • Reda Sobky

    You have brought to the fore multiple aspects that represent Egyptian hangups not necessarily uniquely associated with this situation such as class and social status. Dissatisfaction in general and its effect on mood and affect. The dysphoria associated with compelled evolutionary change from a semi aboriginal state to one able to compete on the world scene…on and on. Mostly tensions that come with the territory. Each class blaming the other and the religionists blaming the civil life supporters on and on. But…when you look at the roots of the difficulty they are mostly existential and evolutionary distress such as urban migration, weak education and health…etc. The fundamental question remains: if not this then what? an extremely difficult question to answer especially if you want a non western answer…you have to be creative and bold and successful in addition to intellectually honest and fair. Not yet there in general and in Egypt in particular because of the weight of the past and its effect on the individual and collective psyche as Mahfouz amply documented in his fiction. All that history and its maladaptive features is still with us and will surely get played out in the here and now. Lower your expectations and attempt a dialectical analysis maybe more light can be shed on this dynamic.

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