The measures that some Western embassies in Egypt took this week—closing their doors and warning their citizens of potential terrorist attacks—remind us once again of the extent of the threats facing the Egyptian state, and the gravity of the events taking place not only in Egypt but the region in general. Terrorism, along with wars, has been a key tool in undermining regional security and exhausting and isolating states, by either making them collapse or drown in internal chaos.
Terrorist attacks in Egypt have escalated remarkably since the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Most of the attacks have targeted the army and police, especially in the Sinai Peninsula, which some militants are seeking to turn into a base for terrorism and extremism. This was evidenced by Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis’s declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), before it started referring to itself as the Islamic State of Sinai. The connection between these two groups is perhaps what was behind the warnings issued by Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, and the US, as ISIS recently threatened to target the countries participating in the US-led international coalition carrying out airstrikes against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq.
In a step obviously prompted by its support for the Brotherhood, ISIS threatened Egypt in June over its participation in the US-led airstrikes.
Some have accused the Western countries that issued warnings of conspiring against Egypt in a bid to weaken it and portray it as an unstable state. But this interpretation overlooks the fact that the precautions taken by these embassies do not apply to Egypt alone and had already been applied in other countries where terror threat levels vary at different times and for different reasons.
Western states are not alone, almost all countries take terrorist threats seriously in order to protect their interests, citizens and security, particularly at a time when terrorism has become an international obsession. The countries that announced the recent precautionary measures have their own reasons that range from threats posed by ISIS, such as is the case for Britain, to fears of violent reactions to the release of a report accusing the CIA of using brutal interrogation techniques against detainees and using unreliable testimonies after the declaration of the “War on Terror” following the September 11, 2011 attacks.
There are serious terrorist threats to Egypt and the country is in a state of war with extremists who have escalated their attacks after the ouster of the Brotherhood from power. More dangerously, terrorist threats have coincided with the upsurge in extremism after the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Since then, jihadist groups have managed to establish a strong armed presence in several countries, from Libya and Yemen to Syria and Iraq. After ISIS captured large swathes of Syria and Iraq, the Houthi takeover of Yemen, and attempts by extremist groups to take control of Libya, the aspirations of these groups undoubtedly began to expand. Given its regional significance, Egypt remains at the top of the list in militant groups’ dreams and aspirations.
The battle against terrorism overlaps with Egyptian efforts to reform its economy, a fundamental pillar of stability. As a result, friends of Egypt have rushed to provide support while its opponents have joined hands to hamper its economic recovery. Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, have offered Egypt more than 10 billion US dollars in aid, and were keen to include the stability of Egypt on the agenda of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s recent summit in Doha. After the Egyptian economy recently started to show signs of recovery, the World Bank gave Egypt a positive assessment and predicted it would achieve almost four percent growth by next year. Therefore, hampering Egypt’s economic recovery has become an important objective for any entity that does not wish stability for Egypt. The tourism sector, along with the Suez Canal and remittances from expatriates, is the most significant source of hard currency, and has always been an easy target for terrorists. In this respect, one can understand the threats against embassies and tourists.
Having recently focused on targeting the armed forces, terrorists will without doubt try to impede Egypt’s economic recovery, as their aim remains the destabilizing and weakening of the country by targeting its security, economy and social fabric. They certainly do not want to see achievements made by the government they want to undermine. Egypt is fighting a multi-faceted battle on different fronts.