Money not the root of all evil
The discovery that Lebanon's Hizbullah was setting up a branch in Cairo leaves a bitter taste. First of all, it reminded us that militant groups fighting for their beliefs are not, as we would like to believe, a thing of the past. That a tiny militant group such as Hizbullah, one that could fit in a backstreet in Cairo, had the temerity to challenge us in public is simply insolent.
It is a relief to know that members of the group were arrested before they did any damage, but the bitter taste lingers. If it is any consolation, other countries have been in the same situation. To this day the Americans admit that their number one enemy is a man who may be living in caves.
The horror of having militant groups resume their work in Egypt is, however, something that cannot be dismissed. We all want to regard terror as a thing of the past but that would be wishful thinking as the recent bomb in Khan Al-Khalili so painfully showed.
What the Egyptian police uncovered is not a handful of individuals operating a secret cell but the seeds of a much more substantial group. It would be too easy to dismiss this group of individuals as hired hands, as mercenaries in the pay of evil forces. But people don't join military organisations to make a living. They do it to make a point. They may receive pay and lodging while engaged in underground activities but this should not to be confused with their motives.
So let's not be tempted to take the easy route. Let's not start spreading the word that everything is fine, that the suspects are in custody and the money has been tracked down and pretend the whole thing is over. We cannot afford to become the victims of our own propaganda. The perils are too real to be dismissed.
Two wars in Lebanon and Gaza have brought popular appeal to both Hizbullah and Hamas and in the process undermined the authority of their host governments. The 2006 war in Lebanon was not ordered by the Lebanese government, neither was the 2006 war in Gaza encouraged by the Palestinian Authority. In both cases an armed group fought Israel with support from Syria and Iran, and came out looking good in the media. In both cases Egypt came out looking as if it had bet on the wrong horse.
During the Lebanon and Gaza wars Egypt found itself at the receiving end of protesters' demands for action. In the name of shared values -- Islam, or pan- Arabism -- Egypt was told to cut off ties with Israel, mobilise its army and fight side by side with Hizbullah and Hamas. Interestingly, Syria didn't face the same demands, although its land is still under Israeli occupation.
People listened to this propaganda. In Egypt Islamists and liberals alike disparaged the government for its perceived inaction. Egypt was being asked to go to war. Professional syndicates wanted the country to act. The independent press levelled abuse at the government.
Sadly the government failed to deflect the media broadside, pointing out that we have a peace treaty with Israel and no Egyptian land under occupation was suddenly not enough. Why and when Egypt should go to war, how it could assist others in war, no one bothered to explain.
At this point, even without Hizbullah having a branch in Egypt, anger was spreading fast among young people. It was the type of anger that can lead to underground work, that can give birth to indoctrinated militants. In short, it was the type of anger that can lead to what we have just seen.
The suspects turned out to include different nationalities: Lebanese, Palestinians, Sudanese, and the majority are Egyptians. So let's not think we're totally blameless.
Egyptians are not gullible people swayed by every naïve idea provided by others. When our young sign up for militant groups they do so because we have offered them nothing else to believe in. When the political high ground is taken by the Islamists and pan-Arabists it is only a matter of time before the government's credibility falls apart. The government says that it is interested in peace and higher standards of living, but that's not good enough. Clearly it did not satisfy the people who signed up for the Hizbullah outfit.
The government's first instinct is to treat the Hizbullah underground group as a security problem, not a political issue. Nothing could be riskier. If the government is really interested in making this country secure then it should allow politics back into the streets and let the public have its say. This is the only way for the nation to take back the political high ground from Islamic militants and minimise the temptation of the young to sign up for armed groups. And if we freed the streets for political expression the police would have more time to do their real job, which is to fight crime.