“Although we invented war; I can’t understand or imagine how people can decide to blow themselves up,” said a Western acquaintance who was seeking my help to understand the sick behavior of suicide-bombers (that I personally am struggling to comprehend!) In Egypt, we have been living with this disease for years. It is certainly damaging the body now, but as Egyptians we are aware of our nation’s thousands of years of history, and this gives us a considerable degree of confidence in our aptitude for survival.
Egyptians today are paying a very high price for the chronic disease of terrorism that we have been handling very badly in recent years. Terrorism emerged in Egypt because the body is very vulnerable; it was quite easy for the disease to invade it and to spread through it – and today it has become chronic in our society. Terrorism is like a bad blood cell that not only deforms itself, but also has a strong desire to destroy the entire body. Properly understanding the symptoms of the disease will help us to treat it more efficiently, instead of persisting in using the same old remedy that has almost paralyzed both the body and the mind.
Egypt has always relied on the surgical approach, because the physicians assigned to treat the disease are only familiar with this type of treatment and they naturally want to apply what they know best. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet realized that this kind of surgical intervention has yielded no positive outcomes so far! Every now and then, we imagine that we have succeeded in completely eradicating the disease – until another major terrorist attack takes us by surprise. We have carried out so many surgical procedures that the entire body has been enfeebled; yet the disease continues to spread and thrive, until our country had to be dragged into Intensive Care recently.
The Egyptian state believes that terrorism is a matter to be handled exclusively by its security apparatus and it is working on distancing Egyptian institutions and government entities from even expressing their opinions on this topic. The state’s ongoing policy of arresting any suspicious-looking body organs has served to stimulate other cells, prompting them to engage in terrorist acts. The security apparatus is trying to drive hidden terrorist cells out of the Egyptian body; but locating and isolating those cells is almost impossible – even if the entire society is placed under the strictest surveillance.
We in Egypt need to differentiate between beliefs and action. Because a belief is, sadly, a veiled social behavior, it is impossible to know, in this kind of repressive environment, who believes in what. Thus, the more we encourage society to speak up, the better we can identify harmful ‘terrorist belief’ cells and subject them to scientific chemotherapy treatment. Actual terrorist activity, on the other hand, must remain the business of security forces. Leaving the security apparatus to deal with both terrorist beliefs and actions is an erroneous policy; it gives the state the incorrect impression that it is reducing the number of bad cells, when in fact terrorists are reinventing themselves all the time.
Apart from the security approach, Egypt needs to attack this disease from two other angles. We need to enhance the body’s immunity to prevent the re-emergence of deformed cells. Additionally, we need to work on altering the entire society’s disposition and willingness to use violence and terror by creating conditions that allow for constructive dialogue that will better help us to address our challenges. Citizens who have false beliefs and want to hurt society are everywhere, living among us. Logically, therefore, the entire community should be allowed to participate in overcoming the disease of terrorism by identify the deformed cells and working on their rehabilitation.
The rapid spread of deformed cells that have even invaded critical body organs should be enough reason to revisit our strategy for combating terrorism in Egypt. National institutions, community associations, ordinary citizens and others must all engage in society (regardless of their differences with the ruling regime) to send a clear message against terrorism. Chemotherapy is a lengthy treatment, requiring specialized experts to administer it, but it is certainly better than the surgical option that we have been using for years with no noticeable results. Advancing freedom of speech and opening new avenues of internal dialogue will enable us to go much further in curing this chronic illness once and for all.