Will More Repression Reduce Egyptian Terrorism?

The belief that applying a repressive policy is the only means to get rid of terrorism has become a phenomenon among many Egyptians, who are calling for an extension of this policy and the imposition of crueler measures on citizens suspected of terrorism. If this premise were true, Egypt would have been free of terrorism a long time ago. The large segment of the Egyptian population that sanctions repression is trying to live in peace at the expense of other citizens who share their mission, but who have different outlooks.

The mindsets and motivations of people who commit ordinary crimes are entirely different from those of people engaged in terrorist activity. The first group knows that the risks attached to their crimes are limited while the probable rewards are high. Very often, they engage in illegal activity to advance their standard of living, always doing their utmost to hide their misconduct. In contrast, there is no risk factor in the acts committed by terrorists; they know in advance that they will lose their lives carrying out the terrorist act, or eventually face prosecution.

Terrorism is an extraordinary event that necessitates a certain state of mind! Thus, it should not be defined simply as a law-breaking incident. Terrorism is a reflection of some sort of deficiency in the society that enabled terrorists to emerge. Dealing with people who are willing to kill innocent citizens, and to give up their lives doing so, requires a proper understanding of their motivational behaviors, which could help us to pre-empt their engagement in terrorist acts in the first place. We must work to limit the likelihood of people committing to terrorist activity by undermining their motives, not by threatening them with more severe penalties.

The Egyptian state must strive to reduce the number of angry and disgruntled people who harbor hatred for everyone. We may think that we are protecting society against potential crimes by detaining suspects in our prisons for years based on police investigations. Sooner or later however, those suspects will be released, having developed strong feelings of hatred toward the state and the entire community and a desire to seek revenge from both. The repressive policy initially applied by the state will have contributed to any terrorist behavior they may adopt after their discharge from prison.

The Egyptian media, endorsed by like-minded citizens, is regularly calling for the application of a more repressive policy. They may be motivated by a genuine desire to secure their lives and those of their fellow citizens, but their approach is misguided. Since terrorists certainly don’t watch these media programs, they won’t be alerted that the state is expanding its repressive measures – and even if they did watch them, such programs would only fuel their resolve.

Virtue and sin have existed in all societies for centuries; they can be shaped in a pattern that favors either trait! Nevertheless, it is essential to differentiate between citizens who may be tempted, briefly, to engage in an ordinary criminal act and others who completely disregard the rules that govern society and how it functions. Egypt needs to expand its system of ethical values; strengthening the principles of virtue might prevent citizens from committing terrorist acts in the first place. Working to reinforce virtue in society does not mean neglecting the implementation of proper and durable security measures; both actions are equally needed.

Many Egyptians today are extremely frustrated for a variety of reasons, including the current economic crisis and the inability to foresee the future; even citizens who are in complete agreement with the ruling regime are affected by these challenges. Administering a stronger dose of repression won’t make terrorists more frightened of the government; it will intensify the frustrating environment in which many Egyptians are living.

The Egyptian state needs to work on easing people’s daily lives and defusing the potential for citizens to be recruited by terrorist groups. Sending a clear message of fairness, promoting freedom of expression, proper application of rule of law, and creating more employment opportunities are the key pillars of reducing potential terrorist activity. Threatening terrorists with higher levels of repression, on the other hand, is more liable to trigger – and accelerate – violent extremism and active terrorism among the more frustrated segments of society. Full-fledged democracy may be a debatable issue, but the absence of justice will very likely generate more terrorists.

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