Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

New ways forward

The latest terrorist attack in Arish could presage a reconsideration of anti-terror strategies, writes Reem Leila

New ways forward
New ways forward

Friday’s attack on a mosque killing 305 civilian worshippers has shocked many commentators into suggesting new approaches to the ongoing problem posed by terrorist groups.

A wide array of suggestions to deal with the roots of the problem have been offered, starting with improving awareness of Islam through mosques and schools and extending to displacing residents from areas where insurgents are known to operate and even attacking countries which finance or otherwise support terrorist groups. 

To end terrorism the government must work on six fronts in parallel — the political, economic, social, cultural, military and security — says veteran security expert Fouad Allam. 

“There’s a need to combat extremist ideas to which young people may be attracted. We need a national strategy in which all relevant authorities must participate,” says Allam. 

In Sinai Allam supports the idea of widening border buffer zones.

Following an attack that killed 30 soldiers in October 2014 the army established a 500m wide buffer zone along the 13.5km border with the Gaza Strip. Two months later it doubled the width of the buffer to one kilometre. In September 2017 Rafah City Council ordered the evacuation of inhabitants from designated zones to further extend the security corridor. 

According to Allam, the latest expansion is still not enough. The buffer needs to be extended, though this will involve the demolition of hundreds of homes and the displacement of more than 1,000 families.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa also believes a speedy residential evacuation is needed before the army can act to eliminate terrorist groups. It will also serve to protect local residents from terrorist attacks and halt the possibility of any collaboration between Bedouins and extremists.

And while this is happening, says Allam, “a long-term solution must be found to the complex economic and social conditions that have exacerbated the problem.”

The Social Fund for Development reported in 2013 that poverty rates across the peninsula had reached 45 per cent, a figure that is likely to have increased since the report was released.

After each terrorist attack the government promises to fund development projects and create job opportunities for young people in Sinai, says Allam. “But these projects are rarely implemented. They are usually forgotten once security is restored.”

Abdel-Ghaffar Al-Duweik, a former professor at the Nasser Institute, believes the government must do much more to find alternative sources of income for Sinai’s Bedouin inhabitants. Many Bedouin tribes subsist in the proceeds from illegal activities, including the smuggling of weapons from Gaza, and other sources of income are urgently needed. 

In recent years hundreds of cross-border tunnels have been destroyed. While it is essential to destroy any remaining tunnels through which goods are being smuggled the government must ensure residents are not left without any livelihood, says Al-Duweik. 

Al-Duweik pointed out that any plan to fight terrorism will be ineffective if it is not accompanied by economic development, implemented according to a fixed timetable, he argues. 

“Infrastructure across Sinai has been neglected for years by the government and this includes basic services such as health and education.”

 “A strategy which focuses on engaging the population and addressing their needs will be effective in the future. To end terrorism in Sinai the government must win the trust of Sinai residents.” 

The lives of Sinai’s residents have been disrupted by both terrorist attacks and the army’s response to them, including the relocation of thousands of families from their homes since 2014.  

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