Egypt needs a new approach to fighting extremism

Extremists are not narrow-minded citizens who need to be better educated to change their minds; they tend to be close-minded people who will never adopt an idea that is not in keeping with their mission. Nevertheless, a special method of addressing them is needed. The Egyptian State’s success in its combat against terrorism should not be measured only by the decline in terrorist attacks. Equally important is to reduce the number of extremists in our society, for they are the main terrorist supply source and they clearly influence our society.

Extremists, who are widespread in our society, are quite talented in combining politics with religion, which gives them an advantage that they use to serve their false political Islamic claim to the detriment of both our country and our religion. However, the Egyptian State’s provocative policies vis-à-vis the opposition at large, and extremists in particular, tend to work on strengthening and stimulating extremists’ arguments against the State. What is needed is a policy that aims at defusing internal political tensions.

The extremists’ fundamental political proposition, “To set up an Islamic State based on Justice”, has been established for decades and continues to serve their purpose best. To achieve this false claim, extremists are willing to kill innocent citizens (Muslim and non-Muslim). Those who sympathize with them should probably ask themselves how a group of people who have committed such heinous crimes would be able to apply justice when they eventually come to power.

Meanwhile, Egypt is a society in which the basic principles of justice are lacking; our society is clearly segmented between a tiny number of privileged elites and the poor, illiterate, marginalized masses. The masses, who are naturally and equally pressured by both the State and society, constitute an obvious target for extremists’ recruitment efforts. Proper application of the rule of law and spreading fairness across all segments of society will certainly dispose of the main proposition put forth by those who claim to be establishing an “Islamic State”.

Most Egyptian extremists do not necessarily have criminal records enabling the State to prosecute them immediately. Rather, they are advocates who know how to manipulate words, embellished with a false veneer of our religion, to achieve their destructive goals. Claiming to be establishing a conservative religious society, they spread their extremist behavior in society until eventually a few of their followers decide to turn their thinking into practice – and commit terrorist crimes.

Several pundits have regularly argued that providing better education and lifting citizens out of poverty could help Egypt to eliminate terrorism. I believe in the novelty of these arguments; however, both education and poverty are long-term issues; coping with them requires substantial funds and strong commitments by the State and society. Meanwhile, widespread injustice is what induces many to engage in terrorist activity – that can be easily and immediately prevented by enforcing the law.

Egypt is a nation where communication is designed to flow in a single direction; State media channels convey the official political proposition to citizens at large. Regardless of how good its message, Egyptian extremists are certainly not following the Egyptian State media and the few who are, will never be persuaded by a single word produced by the State! Opening up our media to citizens who would express their perspectives free of government guidance will help to dilute the effects of extremism in our society.

The Egyptian State’s desire to deal exclusively with extremism and terrorism, using its own method, needs to be revisited. The State needs to constantly assess the methods it uses in its effort to counter terrorism to determine whether they are helping to reduce or to increase the magnitude of rigid extremist ideas in our society. Fighting terrorism, clearly, is an exclusively security matter. Extremism, on the other hand, is more of a social challenge. Overcoming both requires accumulated and concerted efforts (free of exceptions or laxity) by the entire society.

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