Tuesday,20 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Tuesday,20 February, 2018
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

New tool to battle terrorism

Last week’s formation of a National Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism was welcomed in security and parliamentary circles, writes Gamal Essam El-Din


Okasha; Guweida; Rashwan; Gomaa; Said
Okasha; Guweida; Rashwan; Gomaa; Said

At the end of the fourth National Youth Conference, held in Alexandria on 24-25 July, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree regulating the activities of the new National Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism (NCCTE).

The 26 July decree stipulates that the council will be headed by the president and include the prime minister, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, head of the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the ministers of defence, military production, religious endowments, youth, social solidarity, foreign affairs, interior, telecommunications, justice, education and higher education, the head of General Intelligence and the chairman of the Administrative Watchdog Authority.

The council will be tasked with mobilising institutions and the public to counter terrorism and its causes.

In addition to the officials above, 13 public figures will also join the NCCTE: former grand mufti Ali Gomaa; poet and writer Farouk Guweida; political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said; former minister of culture Mohamed Saber Arab; psychologist Ahmed Okasha; former head of the Syndicate of Lawyers Mohamed Ragaai Attia; former head of the State Security apparatus Fouad Allam; actor Mohamed Sobhi; head of the State Information Service and Al-Ahram political analyst Diaa Rashwan; presidential advisor for religious affairs and deputy head of parliament’s Religious Affairs Committee Osama Al-Azhari; sociologist Hoda Zakaria; Coptic journalist Hani Labib Morgan and security analyst Khaled Okasha.

According to the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) the council has been mandated with implementing a comprehensive national strategy to combat terrorism and extremism at home and abroad. It will coordinate with religious institutions and security agencies to promote moderate religious discourse to counter extremism.

The formation of the council was welcomed in political, security and parliamentary circles. Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that while it had been hoped the council would be established by legislation rather than presidential decree “MPs still can translate the council’s mandate into binding laws.”

The decree, according to MENA, also gives the council responsibility for amending existing legislation to address obstacles facing access to justice as well as facilitating coordination and cooperation between security and political bodies in Egypt on one hand, and the international community, especially neighbouring Arab countries, on the other.

The council will also seek to coordinate Arab positions on terrorism-related issues and establish a pan-Arab entity to this end. “The council will also take legal measures against nations that support terrorism against the Egyptian state,” according to the decree.

Egypt is one of four Arab states — the quartet — that decided on 5 June to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar. Alongside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Egypt has accused Qatar of funding terrorist organisations and using its media outlets, especially Al-Jazeera, to provide political cover for these organisations and justify attacks against the army and police in Egypt.

During the National Youth Conference in Alexandria, Al-Sisi said “there can be no middle-ground solutions with nations sponsoring terrorism in Egypt… these nations should be punished.”

The NCCTE will recommend security plans and legal strategies to counter terrorism and follow up on their implementation. It will meet every two months.

The council was first mooted by Al-Sisi in a speech broadcast on 9 April, after terrorist attacks that targeted churches in Tanta and Alexandria left 46 dead and more than 100 injured.

In an interview with the editors-in-chief of three national newspapers after another attack on Christians in May, Al-Sisi said: “The council will be tasked with fighting radical ideologies in a systematic way, and its recommendations will be binding on all state authorities.” He also indicated that a major task facing the council would be to protect Christians against terrorist attacks.

The council will work in coordination with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Al-Azhar.

“The three forums will coordinate together to defeat radical Islamist ideology on all fronts, especially the cultural,” said Al-Sisi.

That the ministries of education and higher education are on the board of the council is significant, says Amer. “It means there will be a strong focus on education in countering extremism. It is very important to rid schools and universities of extremist elements. Radical Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis have targeted the education sector for too long. Many of those involved in terrorist operations are graduates of schools and universities affiliated to Al-Azhar.”

“The council should mainly target political Islam, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood,” says presidential advisor on religious affairs Osama Al-Azhari. “These movements, which claim they are moderate groups, have infiltrated schools and universities, turning them into a breeding ground for extremists and terrorists.”

According to Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a researcher on religions at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), one of the main tasks facing the council is to overhaul the religious curricula of Al-Azhar University and its associated institutes and schools.

“The council should also ensure that clerics affiliated with Al-Azhar are permitted to deliver sermons in mosques only after the Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments) can guarantee that they are capable of responding to distorted interpretations of Islam,” says Abdel-Fattah.

Security analyst Khaled Okasha urged the council to develop its counter-extremist strategy in a systematic way. “Close coordination between the ministries of education, higher education, culture and the media is needed if they are to successfully denounce flawed religious fatwas and expose the texts used to spread radical ideology.”

Okasha also argued the council need to develop a preventive strategy. “Following the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya, many jihadists will try to return to their native countries to spread chaos. The council must be armed with a preventive strategy capable of thwarting this.”

The council will also need to work on drying up sources of funding if it is to fulfil its task of “fostering effective coordination among state authorities in the fight against terrorism and extremism”.

Dar Al-Iftaa issued a statement on 27 July hailing the creation of the NCCTE as an important step in the battle against extremism. “We are ready to provide all help possible to eradicate the roots of terrorism and extremism,” said the statement.

Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, hopes that the new council will not turn out to be another moribund bureaucratic institution.

“Experts on the board of the council should help in analysing terrorist organisations, inspecting and tracking their activities, financial resources and extremist ideologies domestically, regionally and internationally.” 

Hafez Abu Seada, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), told Al-Ahram daily on 27 July that the council is being formed at a crucial moment.

“Some in the West believe that political Islam is a moderate force that does not have armed militias and which aims to challenge the autocracy of rulers in the Middle East.”

“The council should correct this mistaken belief. The Muslim Brotherhood regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have shown highly autocratic tendencies, and their maintenance of covert armed militias such as Hasm in Egypt is well known.” 

According to Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef, the new council will rely on sub-committees to implement specific tasks.

“There will be a sub-committee charged with analysing political and radical Islamist ideology, another to gather information on terrorist organisations, one to protect minorities and a fourth to develop security and cultural strategies to combat extremist ideas,” said Youssef.

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