The horrific attack on an Egyptian mosque in El Arish that concluded in the murder of at least 305 Muslims during Friday prayers left Egyptians, and the entire world, wondering why people who claim to be establishing an ‘Islamic State’ are killing fellow Muslims at their worship. The terrorists sent a very clear message to the entire Egyptian society: no one and no venue is immune from terrorism in Egypt. Nevertheless, the drastic change in terrorist targets still has not tipped off our government to the possibility that it might be on the wrong path, or that it could be using the wrong means, in its fight against terrorism.
The one initial promise made by President Al Sisi was to get rid of terrorism, yet living with terrorism is certainly affecting the life of every single Egyptian citizen; insecurity has resulted in shrinking the economy and a radical drop in tourist numbers. The terrorism battle used to be between Islamic terrorists and the Egyptian security apparatus, who have always wanted civilians to keep out of it. At least one member of every Egyptian family is in the army or the police, but we have been pressurized to live with the state’s argument, unable to do anything but offer our sympathy to the families of martyred security personnel.
The Friday mosque attack reveals the existence of a grave problem in Egyptian society that has produced thousands of terrorists over a number of years; a serious defect that the state is neither able to address nor willing to acknowledge. As the number of victims, nature of targeted venues and magnitude of terrorist activity keeps growing, we continue to insist that foreign nations direct and finance these criminals, who are motivated by these external factors. Living in this kind of denial may be limiting our capacity to address the problem competently.
Unintentionally, Egypt’s ruling political strategy may be helping to strengthen terrorist activities and to undermine our efforts to fight terrorism – a scenario that the Egyptian state refuses to even consider. As a result, we carry on using the same methods; as President Al Sisi clearly stated, the state will use extreme brutal force against terrorists. Is brutality the best approach to dealing with mentally sick terrorists, or should we perhaps examine other options – especially since the present method has so far yielded no positive results.
Our state’s failure in fighting terrorism has not only left Egyptians struggling to understand what is going on (particularly in the Sinai); it has also led individual citizens to build various speculative scenarios based on their imaginations. Meanwhile, the Egyptian media that is supposed to shape our society’s thinking and to unite Egyptians against terrorism is only working on confusing people further by hosting an endless number of people who claim to be terrorism experts and whose contributions further bewilder audiences.
The Egyptian state cannot secure every single spot in Egypt. It needs to rely more on its citizens who, in turn, need to have a better understanding of the magnitude of the terrorism problem and the role they can play to combat it. Let’s not bother ourselves with talking about providing better education or conveying a better understanding of Islamic values. Both are essential elements in shaping a better society, but they fall more within the category of mid to long term plans – whereas these criminals are presently intent on killing large numbers of innocent citizens.
The success or failure of terrorist activity should be measured by the terrorists’ ability to recruit more terrorists and to expand their activities! If we do the math properly, we will see that our security apparatus manages to kill most of the terrorists involved after they commit their attacks – only to be surprised by another, larger attack a few weeks later. Therefore, either these terrorists are solid militants with a large number of fighters who are not easy to defeat, or they still have the ability to speedily recruit more people.
The Egyptian state is definitely on the wrong track in its fight against terrorism! Our main challenge does not only lie in the fact that terrorism is expanding in Egypt, it also lies in our firm belief that we are applying the proper anti-terrorism strategy. The state does not want to admit that instead of enfeebling terrorist activity, its policy might actually be triggering terrorism. The Egyptian state needs to be more open-minded about this dilemma and accept the possibility of placing new strategies on the table.