Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Post-Islamic State tools of terrorism

Social media has become a terrain of unconventional warfare. States must think in non-traditional ways to find appropriate tools to confront new national security challenges, writes Ahmed Kamel Al-Beheiri

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The Egyptian state has endured unprecedented “pressure” on its national security over the past six years. Two consecutive revolutions resulted in severe structural turmoil in state and society. Growing activities by terrorist organisations are one of the most serious challenges to national security, resulting from quick developments in the structure of terrorist groups in the Middle East, including the pattern of terrorist attacks, the nature of targets, arms and training capabilities. These structural transformations of terrorist groups also include tools for polarisation, recruitment, mobilisation and action as a result of educated classes joining these groups, which has altered the tools used by terrorist groups.

Most recruits in these groups have university or technical school degrees, according to a report by the MENA Economic Monitor published by the World Bank in October 2016. The report stated that 69 per cent of Islamic State (IS) recruits at least have high school diplomas and 15 per cent only did not finish high school. This means a large percentage of IS members are educated with specialties in a number of fields. Thus, traditional assumptions that terrorist groups attract uneducated cadres is incorrect. In fact, most members, and especially leaders, come from the middle and upper classes; the majority of terrorists who carry out attacks come from these classes also, therefore linking poverty to terrorism is inaccurate.

These new elements with a higher education and good financial backgrounds have aided terrorist groups to be proactive and advanced in using modern technology, including social media as a key recruitment tool, influencing new members, communicating within the group, and promoting the group’s goals and operations. Ironically, the majority of terrorist groups, whether traditional or random, directly rely on social media tools at a time when states in the region ignored these tools, which made terrorist groups overtake many in the use of social media, which today has a direct impact on many segments in society, especially the youth. The website searchenginejournal.com shows the growth in usage of social media published in three infographics from 2011, 2013 and 2015. Growth rate data revealed that between 2010 and 2015 Facebook users grew to 1.5 billion, Twitter to 316 million and Internet users to 3.4 billion or 45 per cent of the world population.

Data on the age group of social media users reveals that 80 per cent of them are youth, with around 2.5 billion social media users or 70 per cent of Internet users around the globe. Growth in social media users is due to greater reliance on smart phones. These facts and figures helped terrorist groups understand the importance of social media as the most effective tool in the activities of terrorist groups. Social media now goes beyond recruitment and publicity and is now in the realm of unconventional warfare. This is currently apparent with the terrorist group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis in Sinai using fabricated videos of attacks on army and police units, not only for the sake of publicity but also to frighten, demoralise and confuse the public. Thus, social media tools have now become a threat to Egypt’s national security, along with traditional threats such as undermining the state’s identity, Islamist violence, regaining control in Sinai, the water crisis with Ethiopia and economic instability.

We must recognise that terrorist groups using social media is a serious red alert threat in the coming phase. Egypt and other regional countries are now faced with an “non-traditional” challenge that threatens their national security. This requires new and non-traditional means and ways of thinking in facing these challenges.

The writer is an expert on terrorism affairs at Al-Ahram political and Strategic center

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