Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Duplicitous policies

When it comes to Egypt, there is no sympathy when it is the victim of terrorism. Why? Because the West still bristles that Egypt ejected the Muslim Brotherhood, writes Ayman Abdel-Wahab

Duplicitous policies
Duplicitous policies
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Russian plane crash in Sinai is a reminder of the challenges that Egypt has faced since 30 June 2013, and the international pressures that it has had to deal with.

Compare the international reaction to the Russian plane crash with that to the recent attacks in Paris and you’ll get the point. In Egypt’s case, accusations came thick and fast. In France’s case, there was an outpouring of sympathy, offers of help and pledges of solidarity.

Then another attack took place in Mali, with gunmen taking hostages in a hotel. Again, pledges of support and words of sympathy.

None of that occurred in Egypt’s case. A plane crashed and everyone jumped to conclusions. The US and the UK both reacted with accusations, even before the Russians said anything. Suddenly, the crash was the result of terror, and Egypt was responsible for it. It was our fault that terror targeted us, the jury concluded.

At least the Russians took their time. Then they too joined the parade of premature conclusions, cancelled flights and evacuated nationals.

Egypt was faulted without a moment’s hesitation. It was faulted once for wanting to hold a full investigation before announcing the results, and again for being a victim of terror. And the sad thing is that there is nothing new about it — it is part of a trend.

The Western reaction to the plane crash must be viewed in the light of its policies toward Egypt in general. Since Egypt overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, it has become a legitimate target for all sorts of accusations, denied assistance and reprimanded every step of the way.

The recent backlash against Egypt in connection with the plane crash has nothing to do with the plane crash and everything to do with international bias and misjudgement. When it comes to fighting terror, international policy is simply duplicitous.

It all depends on who is being targeted, and what the outcome is for them. When Paris is targeted, it is a clear threat to the West. But when Egypt is threatened, the West has to think twice about it.

As a result, the international effort to fight terror has been erratic, tainted with the desire to reshape the map of the Middle East, influenced by who is in power and how pliant they are willing to be. Egypt has been on the wrong side of this equation, first by overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood, and then by trying to hold on to its stability amid growing regional turbulence.

In some Western circles, hope persists that the region will acquire a new map, with fewer nation states and more mini-states created along sectarian and ethnic line. This scheme, created with the interests of Israel and Turkey in mind, is still too attractive to abandon. And Egypt, since it rid itself of the Muslim Brotherhood, is not playing along.

Some Western countries, France in particular, are willing to act seriously in the confrontation with the Islamic State (IS) group. But it is clear that part of the reason IS has survived so far is that not everyone is willing to see its end — not yet, at least.

The horrors committed by IS are helping to fragment the region in just the same way that politicians who advocated “creative chaos” a few years ago were hoping to see.

The international outpouring of sympathy for Paris contrasts with the lack of analysis on why IS has survived so far, and why so little has been done to encircle and destroy it, along with other like-minded groups.

The official statements that came from the West in the aftermath of the Paris attacks acknowledge the danger of extremist groups, but fail to address the reason they have flourished in the first place.

The West, apparently, is willing to focus its attention on protecting itself from IS, but when it comes to Egypt — which is facing threats from extremist groups, including those friendly with the Muslim Brotherhood — there is no hurry.

One would have thought that measures would be put in place to rid the region of radical Islamist groups. One would have thought that these measures would involve close cooperation with regional powers, especially Egypt. But no such luck.

When it comes to fighting terror, too many things get in the way: the ambitions of regional powers, reluctance of superpowers, jockeying by local groups, and also the friendship that some radical organisations, the Muslim Brotherhood included, have developed with international players.

Egypt’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood still rankles those Western powers that developed a taste for this particular group, and had hoped to use the Muslim Brotherhood as a spearhead in their regional plans. Scenarios for reshaping the region were toppled along with the Muslim Brotherhood. And the culprit, Egypt, had to be punished.

The international community may clamour against the horrors of IS, but its planners still bemoan Egypt’s revolt against political Islam. This should come as no surprise. Political Islam has for years championed the cause of Western intelligence. Back in Afghanistan, it helped derail the Russians.

Now it is shredding to pieces the very region Western planners want to reinvent in a more malleable form, made of small mosaic pieces, coloured with ethnicity and bedecked with sectarianism. A region that would be easy to handle, a region that would be easy to divide, a region that would keep Western states happy and their local allies satisfied.

Egypt was ostracised for spoiling the fun, but for a while at least there seemed to be a way out. Its roadmap was going well, and a few Western capitals acknowledged the accomplishments the country has made over the past year and a half.

Then the Russian plane came crashing down, along with hopes for international fairness. Now the country that has stood like no other against political Islam, the root of all radical Islamist terror, is once again in the dock. We’re accused of not fighting terror hard enough, or well enough, or at all.

Again, compare Egypt’s position with that of France. French politicians didn’t blame Belgium for being the conduit for the terrorists who attacked Paris. They didn’t seek the cancellation of the Schengen visa. They took draconian measures after the attacks. No one can blame them, and no one did.

But in Egypt, we were accused, even as investigations remained inconclusive, of being lax in security, of letting terrorists through, and slammed with negative media and flight bans. There has been no mention of how hard we’ve been fighting Islamist extremists, not only in Sinai but all over the country. There has been no sympathy.

While Egypt was being criticised over its human rights record in Sinai, France’s stringent measures were considered business as usual. While Egypt was being slammed for being soft on terror, Muslim Brotherhood officials were given shelter and a voice in foreign capitals.

To this day, the US and Europe defend the Muslim Brotherhood, portraying the group as a political minority that has been deprived of its legitimate rights. To this day, the US and Europe refuse to acknowledge the close links between the Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line militants, including those active in and outside Sinai.

Let’s admit it, the US has dragged out the war on terror for reasons of strategy, to get a better grip on the region and nourish a new generation of allies. Some of this may have been to the advantage of terror groups, including IS.

The US has withheld economic assistance to Egypt and is still putting pressure on its government to give another chance to the Muslim Brotherhood and its friends to destabilise the country. It is all a game of double standards, one in which the rhetoric coming from Western capitals contrasts with their actions and intentions in the region.

 But Egypt cannot afford to be duplicitous in return. We must continue to fight terror and show others that it can be defeated. And we have to keep our hand extended, even to those who doubt us, mistrust us and try to outsmart us.

Do not expect the current pressure on Egypt to go away any time soon. For us, the most important thing is to streamline our political process, build up our institutions and, at some point in the future, engage the US and others in constructive dialogue.

We must remain focused on strengthening our state, our economy and our stability. This is the first line of defence against terror.

The writer is chief editor of Ahwal Masriya and director of the Egyptian Regime Studies Unit at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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