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Opinion: The New Wave of Terrorism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An Egyptian soldier keeps watch atop an armored vehicle next to the North Sinai Government building during celebrations on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war in Arish, North Sinai, Egypt, 06 October 2013. (EPA)

It is impossible to believe that there is any rational political idea or objective behind the wave of armed attacks that is currently taking place in Sinai and other Egyptian cities, sometimes on a daily basis. While some of these attacks are successful, and others fail, ultimately they are nothing more than a tool in the overall operation to bleed the Egyptian state dry—politically, economically, and security-wise—during the current transitional period.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in Egypt, the region, or even the world. Egypt and its cities have previously been subject to this phenomenon, including a wave of terrorist attacks that began with the assassination of President Anwar Sadat and continued for several years. Hundreds of Egyptians and foreign nationals were killed during this wave of terrorism, while subsequent tourist seasons were also affected by this, particularly following the Luxor massacre. Cities and regions in Upper Egypt were the scene of violence and armed confrontation with the police.

However this wave of terrorist attacks was ultimately brought under control and was followed by some of the extremist groups revising their ideology. They apologized for their actions and renounced violence. As for those who refused, they fled to Afghanistan and other far-flung regions of the world where they could continue to practice terrorism.

In the 1990s, terrorists and those who adopted extremist ideology were preoccupied with their global war, which promoted a negative image of Islam and Muslims around the world thanks to suicide bombings targeting civilians and state facilities, as well as attempts to hijack airplanes, and more. Some Arab countries found themselves caught in the middle, engaging in a war at home against the domestic wings of these terrorist groups, after terrorism became an international phenomenon wreaking havoc and destruction across the globe under ideological banners and slogans that could only convince the gullible and weak-minded.

A wave of change toppled the ruling regimes of a number of Arab states in 2011, while this was followed by a general state of turmoil, which is a natural phenomenon that accompanies any grand social changes. However, this also resulted in terrorist organizations appearing on the scene once more to exploit the security vacuum, with terrorist elements crossing borders and settling in new countries and regions, making the Middle East one of the most dangerous hotbeds of terrorism in the modern world. It is enough to look at the map of the region today, from east Africa to Yemen and Iraq, to how some extremist groups are using the Syrian civil war—not to mention the situation in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula—to see the extent of the expansion in the operations of takfirist and terrorist organizations.

There is a difference between the wave of terrorism that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s and the current wave of terrorism striking the Middle East, despite the ideological similarities between the two. The terrorists that have returned to the region to exploit the current security vacuum and social crisis carry with them a great deal of experience and sophisticated bomb-making expertise gained in places. This is in addition to a network of relationships with similar organizations, allowing them to exchange information and expertise, and in some cases this includes direct cooperation between groups. This can be seen in the reports of foreign elements in the ranks of the extremist groups operating out of the Sinai Peninsula. What is also new this time is that some political forces within Islamist political currents find nothing wrong with benefiting from the activities of these terrorists organizations in order to weaken their rivals and achieve their objectives, namely gaining control of the state. One of the reasons behind the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, was their utilization, or alliance, with Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, which was behind many of the terrorist attacks in the 1990s.

As for Egypt, it is difficult to imagine that these sporadic terrorist attacks will achieve anything, with the exception of wearing down the state that is trying to return life in the country to normal. It is also difficult to imagine that these attacks will receive any public sympathy or support in light of public aversion to seeing ordinary people and their livelihoods harmed.

However, we must also acknowledge that Egypt is facing a greater challenge today than it did in the 1990s, particularly in light of the current regional climate which means that borders are less secure. This is not to mention the deteriorating security situation in neighboring countries, the relative ease of transferring arms and fighters across borders, and the international network that links these terrorist groups together.

It may take some time to confront this new wave of terrorism that has reared its head. However, this will certainly be the final confrontation to defeat this ideology that has been able to hide its true nature and spread across the world over the past three decades. This time the battle is not just between states and terrorist groups, but it has also become a battle between the terrorists and society at large. If people carried out uprisings or revolutions for political change, they did not do so to allow those who follow a terrorist and takfirist ideology to seize control afterwards, particularly after they were in a state of retreat, hiding out in Afghanistan or the Pakistani border region.