Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Winning the war on terrorism

Egypt needs security and development. To reach the former, the country needs a new and elite body — as exists in other countries — specifically tasked with eliminating terrorism, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

Our war against terrorism still takes priority over all the other priorities that press on decision-makers. It is a battle that has a technical aspect, based on professionalism, knowledge and science. Counterterrorism is not like a war against another country that is invading or preparing to invade us. It is not a war against groups that are organised in a hierarchical system for authority and decision-making. Accordingly, it has properties that need to be addressed specifically, as terrorist elements blend into society and exploit its natural openness through simple means to plant rudimentary bombs, obstruct traffic and, in short, paralyse people’s lives. With the gradual dissemination of fear and terror, people are sometimes driven to despair at the circumstances of life. It is a condition that is used to recruit from the base of society and to justify assassination at the top.

 I do not want to delve too deeply into the subject. Here I will only stress two points. Firstly, the only way we can realise the many reforms we want to introduce, to bring tourism back and to resume the life interrupted by the era of revolutions, is to eliminate terrorism. Secondly, we have yet to draw up a strategy for how to accomplish this.

Over a year has passed since the fall of Muslim Brotherhood rule. Yet, terrorism persists in its various forms. It may sometimes appear to fade, but it soon rears its head again while its media machine works intensely. This media machine — with its various electronic, satellite or oral channels — does not so much work to spread an idea as it does to abet, cover up or justify terrorist acts. It is part of a mobilising strategy to achieve a political end, namely the return of the Muslim Brotherhood regime or the seizure of control over all or parts of the country by terrorist groups.

The Muslim Brotherhood sold themselves to the devil. They are now part of that hellish cycle epitomised by the nascent Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. There are two ways to resist that. The first is through the Interior Ministry and its instruments. The second is through the media, which works in a seasonal manner whenever every major terrorist act erupts. The latter needs an approach of a special sort. However, what is of concern to us here is that to rely on the Interior Ministry, even if it obtains some assistance from the army, is not sufficient to contend with the current situation.

As a matter of fact, most countries elsewhere in the world that are contending with terrorism do not rely on their interior ministries or the police. The rely on specially trained and equipped Special Forces that have the power not only to “fight” terrorism but also to “eliminate” it. Interior ministries and police forces, by their very nature, have various functions. They are responsible for protecting the public and personal safety, for controlling traffic, for confronting lawbreakers and arresting criminals, for stopping organised crime and for protecting public establishments. These are major tasks and responsibilities. In addition to these, we are probably the only country in the world where the police are also charged with the duty of monitoring prices, because in most other countries in the world it is the market that sets prices. Also, in most other countries it is not the police that is tasked with issuing identity cards or driving licences, as these functions are performed by municipal councils or private firms.

In all events, my suggestion is that we create a special force to deal with terrorism. In the US, the departments of Homeland Security and the FBI are assigned this task. France and the UK have similar systems. This does not mean that the Interior Ministry will cease to function.  Rather it means that the greater ability to focus on protecting public safety and on safeguarding vital aspects of life will give special anti-terrorist units opportunities for catching terrorists.

From the experiences of other countries we have learned that there are three crucial factors for Special Forces to operate effectively. The first is intelligence. Terrorists melt into the larger sea of society. When they assume a religious guise they acquire an additional layer of camouflage in inherently religious societies. In this context, what is essential is not just that the various intelligence agencies — National Security, General Intelligence, Military Intelligence — pool their resources or communicate well, but that all work together on the basis of the principle that ending terrorism takes the highest priority. The second crucial factor is training. Terrorist groups, especially those that are based in Sinai, like those that were recruited into ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), are not only highly trained but many of their members have real battle expertise. It was no accident that ISIS scored the successes it achieved against the Iraqi army. Its forces were, quite simply, better trained and better armed. The third factor is technology. This has advanced remarkably during recent years, in terms of the weapons used to equip soldiers, and in terms of the surveillance and destructive capacities of radar systems and drones. In the end, defeating terrorism takes more than just taking down the greatest number of terrorists. It entails destroying their leaderships and communication lines, and mobilising the public to expose and inform on terrorists.

Perhaps the Rapid Deployment Force that President Al-Sisi mentioned at one time could be the unit charged with this task. Still, what is of essence now is to complete the entire system and to relieve the Interior Ministry and the police of this task, except where necessary, so that they can dedicate themselves fulltime to their original functions.

As important as it is to strike terrorism face on, it will not be sufficient as long as the current climate remains as charged as it is, and as long as we have not emerged from the economic bottleneck. With regard to the first, we have not done much yet. I refer, here, to the current tensions between youth groups and organisations and the government over a number of issues, prime among which is the protest law. If a part of the time wasted in creating artificial “civil” coalitions were devoted to improving relations between youth and the government, the returns would be far greater than anything that has been produced so far. Perhaps a consensus over submitting all contentious laws to the forthcoming parliament, combined with a suspension of the application of the protest law for a year would, firstly, enable the promulgation of a new law that would avert the shortcomings in the current one and, secondly, give the government and the state, as a whole, a breather during which it can concentrate on setting economic affairs in order.

With regard to this latter issue, the measures that the presidency and government have taken had been on the top of economic reform demands throughout the previous periods; however, the ruling authorities during those periods never had the guts to do what was necessary. This has changed, and now that we have broken through the tough beginning we need to go the rest of the way in order to achieve economic equilibrium.

Economic equilibrium is another matter. This will not come about without a huge economic package supplied by Egyptian, Arab and foreign funds, the bulk of which should be directed into development investment. Contrary to the common impression, this does not require government planning. Rather, it requires creating the climate that will enable capital to find opportunities for investment. When there are shortages, this means that there are no sufficient incentives to cover this field or area of investment, or that.

As much as I esteem and respect the presidency and the government, I failed to understand why the development investment package began with the reclamation of a million acres of land and the construction of 3,000 kilometres of roads. Apart from the economic need to begin with agricultural development in Sinai, agriculture in general may not be the best place to start for development. Firstly, it requires water and this, even including subterranean resources, is not abundant. Secondly, land reclamation requires time after which it will take years for meaningful agricultural production to take off. With regard to roads, the general rule is that it is the creation of factories that creates roads, not roads that create factories. But let us grant that the two might be mutually complementary. The crucial point here is that a certain amount of attention needs to be paid to what businessmen have to say, and not just by the president, as he has in fact done. The government and the media also have to begin to listen, as much as they are disinclined to believe that it is the wealthy investors and businessmen who build factories, companies and cities.

Several days ago I came across a newspaper article lashing out against a man because he “owned” 77 companies, as though this were a crime in itself. The article did not mention how many people those companies employed, or how much they exported and contributed to GDP. In short, no thought was given to how much they contributed to lifting people out of the cycle of poverty and into the world of economic security. This subject requires further discussion, as it may be the real crux of the matter.

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