Is Egypt fighting terrorism or causing it?
It is not surprising that Egyptian authorities continue to attack the public sphere and launch campaigns of repression that affect everyone, disguised in a legal, judicial and legislative suit, wrapped in conspiratorial propaganda under the justification of terrorism, for the eighth year in a row. What is new is that it is now introducing its experience of hate-mongering and deepening societal exclusion as an achievement.
In what looked like Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda, on August 2, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a report on combating terrorism for the year 2021, affirming at its introduction that it was “honoured” to issue it and that it was the fruit of cooperation between the various authorities concerned with combating terrorism and extremist ideology. The report outlined efforts to thwart plans to undermine national state institutions, presenting a clear picture of “the facts on the ground”, in addition to the policies and best practices – from the government’s point of view – followed in the areas of combating terrorism.
Apart from presenting the experience as a success story worthy of emulation by the entire world, both in terms of theory and practice, let’s highlight a number of allegations that came in the report:
- The report demonizes the Muslim Brotherhood, which represents the most prominent political opposition to the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It placed it at the epicentre of terrorism, from where the rest of the terrorist groups grow. It repeats the claim that the group using religion as a cover to impose the takfiri model and overthrow state institutions. This is despite the military-Brotherhood alliance, which lasted from the January 25, 2011 revolution until the July 2013 coup.
- The report emphasizes the necessity of respecting the principle of “state sovereignty” in combating terrorism and understanding the procedures that are based on that, including the need for civil society to play a role that is supportive of state efforts.
- The report, again, advocates a broad definition of what constitutes a terrorist activity or group. It opposes any distinction between violent and non-violent extremism.
- It then calls for ensuring accountability for countries that shelter individuals who meet that definition.
- It does not distinguish between terrorist acts and speech that is viewed as inciting terrorism. This is an excuse that legitimizes the government’s crackdown on the opposition from across the political spectrum.
- It also presented the government’s efforts at preventing terrorist organizations and their supporters from using modern means of communication and social networking sites and obliging service-providing companies to delete inflammatory content, close sites, and provide users’ data to be submitted to law enforcement agencies.
- The report outlines the alleged achievements made through the legislative system, including tackling electronic terrorism, jail terms, freezing assets, and travel bans.
- The report stressed a number of principles that should be adhered to, including the right to a fair public trial before a neutral, natural judge who cannot be dismissed; the right of the accused to communicate with their families and lawyers; to preserve their dignity and not to subject them to torture or intimidation; prisons and places of detention should be subject to judicial oversight; and the independence of the Public Prosecution. All of these principles that the government claims to uphold have been refuted by international human rights reports, which have documented cases of enforced disappearance even targeting infants, extrajudicial executions, bans of visits for prisoners for years, exceptional trials, solitary confinement, placing defendants in glass cages to block their voices and prevent them from defending themselves, arresting and intimidating families of detainees, along with other crimes that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
- The report mentioned the “preventive awareness” policies, and the president’s initiative in 2014 to correct religious discourse. It also discussed the role of Al-Azhar, Dar Al-Ifta, and the Ministry of Endowments in combating terrorism and criminalizing the Brotherhood through the dissemination of relevant content in various languages.
- The report briefly mentioned the armed confrontation by security forces, which, it claims, aims to uncover the structures of the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, to identify its plans and to direct preemptive strikes against it, and to cut off logistical support for it and pursue its elements.
But it is remarkable that a few weeks before the report was issued, on June 9, another report of the Anti-Corruption Unit was issued, headed by Counselor Ahmed Saeed Khalil el-Sisi, a brother of the president. The report’s focus was primarily on “the strategy of combating terrorism and its financing”, without addressing other aspects of corruption. The report reiterated the claim that Egypt is fighting terrorism on behalf of the entire world.
The United Nations and Preventing Violent Extremism
In contrast to the ideas, plans and directives of the Egyptian regime, the United Nations called in its Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism, dated December 22, 2015, for a comprehensive approach, and systematic preventive steps, to address the underlying conditions that drive individuals to extremism.
The plan provided more than 70 recommendations to member states to prevent the further spread of violent extremism.
It argued that nothing can justify violent extremism, but that terrorism does not arise out of a vacuum. It pointed out that grievance, injustice and the promise of empowerment find a listening ear in places where human rights are violated, good governance is not cared for, and aspirations are crushed.
It explained that confrontation is the right of states, but provided that it is consistent with their obligations under international law and human rights, and does not condone addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism.
Does Egypt clearly adhere to the requirements of good governance or to the values of justice that prevent individuals from engaging in violent groups, or does the state’s practices lead to violence?
The recent reports of the US State Department indicate that the current situation, repression and violations not only threaten the rights and dignity of Egyptians but also lead to extremism and the strengthening of terrorist organizations, especially in prisons.
On June 2, 2021, a number of human rights organizations, including the Committee for Justice, called on President Sisi to address the concerns of UN bodies regarding freedoms and the human rights process in Egypt. These include the arbitrary detention of thousands of people based on unfounded terrorism-related charges, the misuse of “terrorist circuits” and the repression of journalists and the media. The concerns also addressed reprisals against human rights defenders through travel bans, assets freezes, and adding them to the “Terrorism list”.
Furthermore, according to the latest statistics by the Committee for Justice, the regime of President Sisi has placed 2,775 political opponents on the lists of terrorism since 2015 until now and has seized 92 companies and factories that work to provide job opportunities for thousands of Egyptian citizens, as happened with the businessman and Chairman of the Juhayna Company’s Board of Directors, Safwan Thabet and his son, in clear evidence of how the Egyptian regime uses the fight against terrorism as a pretext for political revenge.
With the widespread phenomenon of impunity, Amnesty International accused the Egyptian army on August 5, 2012, of committing “horrific crimes in the name of combating terrorism” in Sinai. It called for an investigation into a promotional video published by the army in which it appeared that soldiers were carrying out extrajudicial killings by shooting an unarmed man while he was running in the desert. All of these practices are contrary to the principles of good governance.
The Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 painted a bleak picture for the system, as Egypt fell to 117th place among 180 countries after it was 106th in 2019 and 105th in 2018.
The truth is that most of the world’s countries are aware that the Egyptian regime is using the war on terrorism as a means to suppress opponents and legalize violations, and they are not convinced of the narrative used by Egypt that the political opposition and human rights organizations are the masterminds and supporters of terrorism.
The war on terrorism is not an excuse for the regime to get away with its violations of human rights standards. The extremism produced by its practices, particularly inside its prisons and unlawful detention facilities, may one day explode in the face of the world.