Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 May - 3 June 2009
Issue No. 949
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Court the disgruntled

The ruling party needs to talk more of its successes, to assuage the negative rumours that captivate the nation's youth, writes Abdel-Moniem Said*

The spectre of terror in this country hangs heavy over us once again. The last reminder was the detonation of a homemade device in front of a well-known church in Al-Zeitoun neighbourhood of Cairo. This incident, combined with recent revelations about an earlier attack in Al-Hussein, stirred old worries.

Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, recently commented on police findings in another terror attack. He said that police investigations into a bombing in Al-Hussein suggest that young Egyptians, assisted by foreign (read Palestinian) operatives, were involved.

In short, terror is back on our national agenda, and the National Democratic Party (NDP) has to do something about it. Unless we react swiftly, discontent may keep feeding what seems to be the beginning of another wave of violence.

The attacks in Al-Hussein and Al-Zeitoun were carried out with homemade bombs using nitrous ammonium as the active ingredient. We're talking small bombs, ineffective mostly in their physical impact, but effective psychologically.

These are not the sophisticated bombs that formerly violent groups, such as Jihad and Jamaa Islamiya (the Islamic Group) would have used. These are rudimentary devices, good for beginners and amateurs, and better for stirring panic than killing people.

Now let's consider the two targets of the recent bombings. One, Al-Hussein, is a tourist attraction, which means that the attack was aimed at undermining the economy and making the country look lawless to outsiders. Another, Al-Zeitoun, was a much-loved church, which suggests that the attack was designed to make the country look as if it were biased against its own Christian community. With the timing of the recent attack chosen to precede Obama's trip to Cairo, one should take these things seriously. After all, a hate campaign waged by organised groups abroad against Egypt's treatment of its Christians has been ongoing for sometime now.

The fact that Egyptian militants, obviously newcomers, are linking up with Palestinian operatives is rather worrying, especially in view of the recent evidence that Hizbullah is funding operatives in Egypt. What worries me is that the new brand of militants doesn't lack fuel for their discontent. For one thing, claims have been made that Egypt is helping blockade the Gaza Strip. This is utterly untrue, but the propaganda has been effective. Also, there is much talk among young Egyptians about corruption, tampering with elections, the deteriorating economy, and joblessness. Again, the accusations may be untrue, but they have gained ground.

Under such circumstances, no wonder some young Egyptians -- however few -- are vulnerable for recruitment by terror groups. This is not something we can afford to ignore.

Our security services, I am sure, are vigilant in tracking down terrorists of all denominations. But this is not enough. The NDP has a role to play as well. For starters, it should educate the public on what to do when they find a bomb or when a device goes off. What should we do when we see an abandoned parcel that looks suspicious? And, if a bomb goes off, what should we do to help identify the culprits or assist the victims?

But most importantly, we need to defuse discontent before it turns to terror. We need to let the public, especially the young, know the true efforts Egypt is making in Gaza on the economic, humanitarian, and the political fronts. We need to talk more about the government's efforts to boost the economy and improve living conditions. The government has succeeded in improving several aspects of life, but has it made enough effort to let the young know of its efforts?

In short, there is a need for the government, the parties, and civil society groups to act together against terror. If the NDP fails to win the hearts and minds of the youth, the security of Egypt will be at risk.

* The writer is director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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