Military fighter jet takes off during a military campaign against terrorists in Libya – Press photo
Cairo – 28 May 2017: It seems that the west does not understand Egypt's comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism until now. Here is our take.
Egypt is the last country standing after the Arab Spring of 2011. The awareness and patriotism of Egyptian people, along with the clear vision of the administration on protecting the unity of Egypt, has allowed Egypt to transition to safety.
This achievement has left some countries unhappy. They have begun to explore other ways to defeat a country of more than 7000 years of civilization. Their means was “terrorism.”
When you examine the situation in Egypt, Tunisia comes to mind. Tunisia witnessed the first revolution in the Arab Spring uprisings, but is not currently targeted by terrorism. It has suffered some attacks by extremists but not in such a structured way as seen in Egypt.
This is evidence that Egypt is facing a bigger threat as a result of its pivotal role on the international stage. Egypt is indispensable and essential when it comes to tackling the most difficult regional security threats.
For example, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot move forward without Egypt. Egypt has taken a key coordinating role in the Palestinian reconciliation and has hosted all major participants in Egypt to discuss and end the conflict for the benefit of Palestinians.
In previous years, Egypt experienced a wave of boycotts from the preceding American administration as a result of its role in criticizing the “New Middle East” plan that was implemented by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and supported by some Arab countries including Qatar.
Some European countries such as Germany, France and Italy followed the same path as the U.S. and pressured Egypt following the toppling of Mohamed Morsi after the July 30 uprising in 2013.
But later they realized that stability in the region is only guaranteed by Egypt, especially after the waves of refugees fleeing to Europe which some countries claim have contributed to the rise of terrorist attacks on the continent.
Despite the targeting of the Egyptian army, police and people by terrorists, Egypt has continued to adhere to the approach it promotes as “no foreign interference.” The country has been facing terrorism solely with its own forces including the army, the police and a popular front from the Egyptian people.
The battle against terrorism has now entered its third year and terrorists have been unable to declare an ‘Islamic State’ in the country unlike other nations in the region.
Terrorism in Egypt is concentrated mainly in the Sinai and border areas where weapons and terrorists are able to be smuggled into the country. In addition, Egypt faces a threat posed by the hate speech of extremists to destroy the state, fragment the social fabric and recruit young people to terrorist causes.
The level of frustration among terrorists as a result of this strong confrontation by the Egyptian army in the Sinai forced them to target Egyptian Christians as the only means possible to threaten the unity of the country.
At this moment, Egypt is on a similar page to the Trump administration regarding countering terrorism. Egypt has firmly highlighted the contributing factors to the growth of terrorism including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as mentioned by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in the Islamic-Arab-American summit held in Riyadh on May 22, 2017.
A holistic approach to counter-terrorism
In order to counter terrorism, Egypt has adopted a holistic approach that comprises short term and immediate responses to tackle problems, in addition to a longer term and strategic perspective.
Immediate short term perspective
Egypt’s immediate approach includes a direct confrontation to wipe out terrorists in the Sinai which is currently under a state of emergency to be renewed every three months. The army has guaranteed a high level of military presence in the Sinai and deployed rapid intervention forces when necessary. A strong example of the military confrontation with terrorists is the Jabal Al-Halal (Al-Halal mountain) operation in 2017.
Another example of Egypt’s direct confrontation with terrorism is the Egyptian military air strikes targeting groups affiliated with the Shura Council for Mujahideen of Derna in eastern Libya. These intensive air strikes were carried out in response to the gunfire attack on a bus carrying more than 50 Copts in Upper Egypt’s Minya which killed at least 29 Coptic Christians on Friday May 26, 2017.
The strikes were coordinated with the Libyan Air Force and represent the first of many to pave the way for Libyan ground forces to enter Derna and liberate it from terrorists, as stated by the Libyan Air Force on Friday.
The Egyptian administration firmly stated after the Palm Sunday attacks on April 9, 2017, where a state of emergency was declared that it will decisively respond to terrorism within its borders to protect the Egyptian people.
This was confirmed during Sisi’s official speech at the presidential palace after meeting the National Defense Council, where he asserted “Egypt will not hesitate to target any training camps of terrorists inside or outside the country, and states that facilitate terrorist activities must be punished.”
The airstrikes in Libya put these statements into action.
In addition, Egypt focuses on securing and protecting its border zones, whether with Sudan, Libya or the Gaza Strip. These efforts include addressing weapon and terrorist smuggling and destroying, leveling and sinking the tunnels with the Gaza Strip. These tunnels are negatively impacting the situation in the Gaza Strip.
They are used by Hamas as a means to tighten its control over the Gaza Strip and attain private business objectives. Some Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have called for these tunnels to be shut, as they contribute to increasing economic hardship in the Gaza Strip as a result of deals between Hamas and the smugglers to sell smuggled goods for higher prices in the markets from which Hamas receives a share of the profit.
Also as part of their vision for short term interventions, Egypt is keen to remain one of the biggest military forces in the Middle East and to increase its armament force to be able to deal with terrorists groups in the Sinai who receive developed resources from Islamic State (IS) to engage the Egyptian army. This was reflected in data from Global Firepower (GFP), a website dedicated to the provision of analytical data concerning modern military powers, showing that Egypt places 8th among countries’ Total Aircraft Strength and 7th in Total Attack Aircraft.
In addition, it was recently announced that American military aid to Egypt was to be resumed and in May 2017 the U.S. congress approved a bill that allocated $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt under the section dubbed "Global War on Terror."
Furthermore, the Egyptian administration is dedicated to informing the Egyptian people and the world about their battle against terrorism. These efforts are translated through regular updates and media material developed and published by the Egyptian Army’s Department of Moral Affairs. The published information assists in explaining the real situation to the public and to counter cyber-terrorism by IS who publish videos and statements to spread fear, hate and sectarian strife.
Longer-term and strategic perspectives to counter terrorism
Egypt has identified several different directions when it comes to strategically countering terrorism. It realizes that the confrontation should not be limited to military operations only.
The first step is activating the role of Al-Azhar in countering terror, especially regarding terror speech and misconceptions about Islam that affect young people and coming generations. Al-Azhar’s ‘Religious Observatory’ initiative comprises three centers; an observatory center working in five international languages, a center for translation, and a center for electronic fatwas.
The three centers work in harmony to deliver the message of Al-Azhar, especially regarding terrorism, to the international community. It aims to spread the true Islam and to prepare qualified professionals in the Islamic sciences and theology to reply and disseminate an unambiguous religious message. It also fights extremism and terrorism through monitoring misconceptions over social media and working to correct these misconceptions.
The second approach is concerned with development and inclusiveness. Specifically, the inclusion of young women and men and other vulnerable groups in future initiatives and adopting a human rights-based approach to political and economic empowerment. This approach contributes to countering terrorism that targets youth, especially in areas where a lack of opportunities has allowed radicalization to take root. This approach also raises awareness among youth on their potential and essential role in future society.
The country has taken serious economic reform measures, hoping that it will allow Egypt to retrieve political and economic stability. Additionally, it hopes to calm the security situation in the Sinai where underdevelopment is said to have contributed to the rise of extremism.
A solid example of this approach is the recent youth conference organized by the government and in which President Sisi personally participated. The conference represents an open platform for youth to communicate with the president and express their vision for the future of Egypt and their role in this future. In addition, a ‘Presidential Leadership Program’ has been launched that aims to enhance leadership skills among youth to be future leaders.
Thirdly, Egypt has continuously shed light on the vital role alliances play in countering terrorism, against both terrorist groups themselves and countries that provide financial and logistic support. At a summit in Riyadh, Sisi urged all countries to direct their efforts to the root causes of terrorism and cut all support to these groups in order to be able to comprehensively wipe out terrorism.
Egypt has substantial experience in dealing with terrorism after the insurgency of Islamist-linked terrorism in the early 1990s. This experience has put Egypt in a strong position to offer logistical assistance and ideological support to international joint efforts to counter terrorism.
Additionally, Egypt is a part of a force established at the Riyadh summit to face IS in Iraq and Syria when necessary. Furthermore, when it comes to the war on terrorism Egypt has been an important ally in the past Cold War era.
Egypt also realizes the importance of obtaining an international consensus and consciousness about the huge threat the Middle East is facing from terrorism activity. The Egyptian administration actively and efficiently lobbied the U.N. Security Council to ensure the approval of a resolution to counter-terrorist discourse.
The resolution was adopted under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2354 according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday. Approaching the U.N. Security Council is a step to obtain attention and a resolution that is legally binding and is meant to apply political pressure and a warning that the council is paying attention to the issue and further action may follow.
The collective efforts by the Egyptian administration reflect political maturity and wisdom. They combine the material power to counter terrorism with the rejection of any foreign interference.
Egypt focuses on introducing to the world the true challenges faced in the region as a result of the growing terror threat along with presenting a comprehensive counter-terror framework that is built on collaboration and information-sharing to face terrorist groups and the countries that support them.
Egypt has set a concrete example in countering terrorism with a holistic and inclusive approach. This is an example to be adopted by other countries to take serious steps in countering the number one international threat: “terrorism.”
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