Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1234, (19 - 25 February 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1234, (19 - 25 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Terror’s fifth wave

Since the 1940s, Egypt has experienced five waves of terror, four of which failed, as will the fifth and widest, that Egypt faces now, writes Ammar Ali Hassan

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday, 21 Egyptian Copts were beheaded by ISIS in Libya. This prompted Egyptian air strikes that targeted the group’s positions in Derna.

Egypt’s Armed Forces are engaged in another battle against ISIS in North Sinai, on the eastern borders.

A week ago, the nation received with disbelief news of a terror attack that claimed 40 lives, including servicemen, policemen and civilians, in North Sinai. This attack, for all its horrible detail, is now part of a pattern. The terrorists are telling us that they intend to turn the peninsula into a province, or welayet, of ISIS, and end the state’s presence there.

What can we do about it?
To confront this type of assault, we must keep the following points in mind:

— Conventional military practice is based on the assumption that the enemy is eager to protect its personnel. When the enemy is bent on committing suicide, conventional theories may cease to apply.

— In guerrilla wars or terrorist campaigns, the very idea of victory is rather nebulous. If you fight an army, you win when the army surrenders or runs away. In the case of terror, the assailants may melt out of sight until the next attack, leaving you guessing. In which case, regular armies would be advised to form trained fighting units specialised in chasing down terrorists and using some of their own tactics. Also, we must be aware that using the full force of a regular army may alienate the civilian population, an outcome that can help rather than deter terror.

— No country that was ever targeted by terror managed to stamp it once and for all. What you can do is keep it under control by gathering intelligence and waging pre-emptive attacks.

— The terrorists need a sympathetic social environment to lean on, without which they are found and turned in to the authorities. This is why the campaign on terror must avoid all types of harassment of locals.

— Terror has become a global, cross-border phenomenon, which means that you have to cooperate with other governments in gathering intelligence and taking pre-emptive action.

— It is important for the nation not to stand neutral in this battle, for its own future is at stake. For this to happen, the government must try at all times to earn the trust and support of the people.

The terrorists have failed. They are not even close to their declared aim of controlling Sinai and banishing the government. They have shed blood, but their dream of turning the peninsula into a province of the ISIS caliphate is as distant as ever.

Egypt has defeated several waves of terror in its recent history, and it has the resolve and ability to thwart this one as well. Just to remind you, here is quick review of the five waves of terror this country has experienced over the past 70 years.

THE 1940s WAVE: In this wave, Ahmed Khazendar, a judge, was assassinated for convicting Muslim Brotherhood members; Prime Minister Mamoud Al-Noqrashi was also assassinated for dissolving the Brotherhood. Then the Brotherhood tried to kill the author Abbas Mahmoud Al-Aqqad for calling them treasonous and accusing them of membership in the Masonic order. This wave didn’t end with the assassination of Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Hassan Al-Banna in February 1949. Historians have been debating the identity of those who started the Cairo Fire in 1952, and although this remains a mystery to this day, one has to say that the similarity between this January 1952 conflagration and what the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to do now is almost uncanny.

THE 1950s AND 1960s WAVE: The Muslim Brotherhood turned against the Free Officers regime after the latter disapproved of some of its suggestions. At first, the Muslim Brotherhood backed the Free Officers fully, and enticed them to dissolve all political parties in the country, hoping that this would pave the way for its takeover. But when relations were strained between them and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, they tried to kill him in Alexandria in 1954. A Muslim Brotherhood plot to destabilise the country in 1965 led to the arrest and subsequent execution of Sayed Qotb, author and member of the Brotherhood Guidance Office. The current Brotherhood supreme guide admitted to having been a member of the Qotb-led terror cell.

THE 1970s WAVE: Small extremist groups surged into action, including the Faniya Askariya Group, named after the military college it attacked; the Gamaat Al-Muslimeen (aka Al-Takfir wal Hegra); and the Islamic Liberation Party.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya made its debut during this period, with the encouragement of late President Anwar Al-Sadat who used it to bully his leftist opponents in universities. The Jihad Organisation, with Ayman Al-Zawahri as a member, also appeared in this decade. In October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by members of the same Islamist groups that he had unleashed against his opponents.

THE 1980s AND 1990s WAVE: Members of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and the Jihad Organisation tried to assassinate prime minister Atef Sedki; assassinated People’s Assembly speaker Rifaat Al-Mahgoub; attempted to kill novelist Naguib Mahfouz; and assassinated author Farag Fouda. The climax of this campaign of violence was the Luxor Massacre in November 1997. A police clampdown led to the arrest of many militants. In prison, members of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya wrote repentant essays known as Moragaat, pledging to stop the violence. They were released from prison, but resumed their violent ways after the January 2011 revolution. Since 30 June 2013, they joined the Muslim Brotherhood in its current campaign of terror.

THE CURRENT WAVE: This started during Mohamed Morsi’s presidency with the killing of soldiers in Sinai, the siege of the Supreme Constitutional Court and Media Production City, the torching of the Wafd Party headquarters, and torching of the building entrance of Al-Watan newspaper. After Morsi’s removal from power, the wave picked up speed and became more global in nature, with non-Egyptians taking part in assaults on the army and police in Sinai. Car bombs and other insurgency tactics were also incorporated into this wave.

What makes me confident that the terrorists are going to fail this time as well in their campaign of bloodshed is that they are now facing both the government and the people, not the authorities alone. Also, in previous campaigns the army was never a target; most of the attacks were against government officials and security chiefs.

Now the army is a clear target, and this is a tall order for the militants. Every Egyptian family has a member in the army, officer or recruit. The army has never been seen as an instrument of oppression in this country, and is still loved and cherished by the nation.

This wave is not going to end soon or easily. The price we have to pay as a nation to defeat the terrorists is high, but it is less than that of the civil war we may have faced had the 30 June 2013 Revolution failed.

The writer is a novelist and socio-political researcher.

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