By Charl Fouad El-Masry
The term fourth generation warfare has been circulating widely recently, with some claiming that Egypt is facing this kind of warfare. Thereby, let me first introduce the previous generations.
First generation warfare is simply a war between two countries in a specific location, although one Egyptian military expert defined it in a seminar as the war ‘’where swords and spears are the weapons’’.
Second generation warfare is a war where a recognised nation-state is fighting against scattered militias. The same military expert said this generation began with the discovery of gunpowder and the use of conventional weapons.
Third generation warfare is pre-emptive warfare: a departure from the battlefields designed to be behind enemy lines. Military experts attribute it to advances in satellite imagery and maps. In this type of warfare, the State strikes in advance to abort threats to national security.
Fourth generation warfare is not related to the previous three for one main reason: information here becomes the main weapon, whether through being leaked to terrorist organisations, being used in the recruitment of terrorist cells, or its use by the media and civil society organisations to undermine the people’s trust in their governments and rulers. This type of warfare utilises new media and social networking sites, as well as opposition and intelligence operations.
So, is Egypt facing this type of war? The answer is yes. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has emphasised this in many of his speeches.
But how can the media become a fourth generation weapon? The Egyptian media is now entering a critical juncture and action must be taken.
The media is mostly controlled by businessmen and some highly paid journalists. They are always focusing on negatives, without mentioning any positives. Some will ask: but is not the media’s role to reveal negatives? The answer is yes, but revealing negatives must come in the framework of building the state, not broadcasting frustration to agitate public opinion. Everyone can note that the public has already been affected and that everyone is disappointed. I myself was also affected for some time, but I rid myself of those ideas. The people, however, still have those ideas, and the media is always trying to focus on negatives and ignore the positives.
In newspapers, we find that the main trend is to condemn the State, particularly privately-owned newspapers. They emphasise events and promote them in organised campaigns. Their headlines often come in eye-catching colours, usually red, to focus on the government’s failure. If they are forced to publish something on the president’s achievements, like the inauguration of a major project, they put that inside the newspaper, hidden in small print and aligned to the right. And if they have to note it on their front pages, they choose succinct titles. I remember an incident that took place at one newspaper I used to work for, when the editorial team was discussing an article about a new armed forces’ graduation, and one colleague insisted on putting it at the bottom of a regular page with other irrelevant stories. He wanted readers to overlook it and turn the page, only because he had a personal problem with his country’s army.
New media, or social networking sites, are the real threat. Rumours and lies are promoted to take down the state, especially now as it has become easier to publish videos and pictures via smartphones. This is a great risk that will grow bigger if satellite channels ally with new media with the support of opposition groups that use violence to spread their ideas. Most civil society organisations work to demolish the state through fourth generation warfare for a few dollars. They broadcast their ideas to create chaos by funding youth to monitor elections or work on media research, and so on.
So is Egypt a battlefield for a fourth generation war? The answer is yes. I believe the war will grow even bigger, as forts can only be brought down from the inside.
Charl Fouad El-Masry is a columnist and political analyst.