A storm of terrorism and insurgency threatens Sisi's Egypt

A storm of terrorism and insurgency threatens Sisi's Egypt
Comment: The political forecast will remain gloomy as long as Egypt's leadership undermines efforts to build a system of justice based upon the rule of law, writes Amr Khalifa.
6 min read
03 Dec, 2015
Insurgency in Egypt has climbed under Sisi despite the myth of security [Getty]
The toll exacted by terrorism on the regime of abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt will not be measured solely in human carnage; its legacy will be the demystification of Sisi's supreme overarching goal: a secure Egypt.

A seminal report, entitled Egypt's Rising Security Threat, by The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), paints a horrifying picture of an entrenched insurgency in Sinai and a tripling of terrorist attacks in one year under Sisi rule.

Egypt faces more than just organised terrorist groups with political agendas; citizens wake daily to both militant and state terrorism. This deadly intertwining binary will have much to say regarding the long-term survival of Sisi's rule.

Shortly after the deadly attack on a Russian plane which took 224 lives, Sisi visited the tourism hub of Sharm El Sheikh and proclaimed: "Egypt is stable, secure and safe."

The Egyptian president seems to view security through the prism of an alternate reality. Numbers and facts speak loudest and the reader shall be judge and jury.

The report helps clarify a hyper-complex security situation dominated by Wilayat Sinai, the IS affiliate in Egypt, and populated by many other groups. To unravel it is to understand that the Egyptian regime is facing an existential threat from numerous organisations capable of destabilising it.

"More attacks are occurring than ever before", unequivocally reports TIMEP. Numbers speak loudest: in 2014 there was, a highly distressing, 30 attacks per month "four times the rate of prior years". But in the first eight months of 2015, those numbers did not mushroom - they exploded.

In those eight months, attacks leapt to "an average of over 100 per month". At a time when, many analysts believed, Sisi was securing his stranglehold on Egypt, reality said otherwise: it was, in point of fact, extremism and militant groups who applied the chokehold.

As early as mid-2014, analysts warned that a continuation of the crackdown would lead, directly, to a reduced US role in cooperation with Cairo. The crackdown has only intensified. This is an autocrat who listens best to one voice: his.

     To begin with, there needs to be an acknowledgement, both clear and concise: the Rabaa tragedy was a mistake

Of deep concern is the kaleidoscope of militant groups dotting the Egyptian map: it is more organised than ever -there is little that is haphazard about this extremist phenomenon.

Groups such as Ajnad Masr and the Allied Popular Resistance Movement operate in greater Cairo, and others including Revolutionary Punishment and Walaa "are very active in Giza governate", asserted a recent report by The Regional Center For Strategic Studies.

This buttresses the TIMEP study, which stated that attacks had increased dramatically outside Northern Sinai, the centre of the insurgency. Greater Cairo, Fayoum and Sharqiya have become cogs in the militant wheel, with Ismailiyia, Suez and Alexandria also being targets.

Notably, attacks which focused on police in Greater Cairo, since January, have "skyrocketed… to include public and private property".

The Western desert is yet another hotspot, as evidenced by the recent attack in which eight Mexican tourists and four Egyptians were mistakenly killed by the Egyptian army and police. Couple that with a telling, eight-hour confrontation between Egyptian security forces and IS-linked militants which left 20 dead in the south of Egypt - a vast weapon-laden area - and you have threatening skies overhead.

But understanding the militant threat's breadth and depth and its rise is not sufficient. Two more things need to be understood: why has the threat increased and what can be done to start to slow its advance initially and defeat it eventually?

In this equation, the former will lead to the latter. This will depend on open minds and an immediate cease and desist of the regime's staccato responses to the labyrinthine problem of militancy.

To begin with, there needs to be an acknowledgement, both clear and concise: the Rabaa tragedy was a mistake. It is fully understood that Sisi and company will not admit the killing of 1,000 Egyptians was criminal lest they implicate themselves and a large hawkish inner entourage.

But unless the regime is intent in continuing to make Egypt ever more hospitable for the rearing of militancy and extremism this is a first step that is non-negotiable.

Instead of a revolution in Islam, often trumpeted by Sisi for western consumption, there needs to be a revolution in government discourse.

Only this past week in Luxor, yet another Egyptian died after only one hour in police custody. All four of Talaat Shabeeb's children, pictured frequently on social media, will grow up to be enemies of the regime if there is no justice found.

This scenario is why the regime must walk back from the Rabaa disaster. The phrase "no justice, no peace" is no misnomer, and the regime must quickly realise this. State terrorism begets non-state terrorism.

While the Rabaa recommendation is a difficult one, to be sure, far more difficult steps are needed if fighting terror is to succeed. Chief among them is an end to the intellectual hypocrisy of the government.

You cannot continue to give lip service to the January 25 revolution while all policies speak to the contrary. If it quacks like duck and walks like one, it is a duck. Sisi's rule is that of June 30, 2013, not January 25, 2011.

But politics and rule is about compromise. Fail to acknowledge the demands and vision of January 25 - and not only will you make recruiting for the many militant groups easier, but Egypt will become fertile ground for something more dangerous to Sisi: uprising or revolution.

An American deconstructive phrase "it's the economy, stupid" holds the key to the third component of the plan to fight politically inspired violence.

There is little that is going according to plan, economically speaking, in the Egyptian zeitgeist. Tourism has been devastated and will remain so in the aftermath of the Russian plane disaster, with losses projected in the billions.

     To begin to make headway against the state's undermining dynamic, the government must commit to honesty

Monetary policy continues to stumble with the dollar rising, then strangely falling against the pound while continuing to zoom in parallel markets to 8.60 in contrast with an official exchange rate below 8.00.

Above all else, and most perceptibly to the average Egyptian, everyday prices continue to skyrocket. An upward trajectory on three fronts will only increase prospects for a rise in militancy. Sisi must get his economic house in order, particularly when you consider that, thus far, the Suez Canal mega-project has been a dud.

No one doubts that terrorism in the modern age has become an international enterprise. But Egypt, particularly under Sisi's rule, has become particularly vulnerable to that dastardly brand of blood-letting.

To begin to make headway against the state's undermining dynamic, the government must commit to honesty.

For Sisi and the army to trumpet a Sinai under "full control" only reduces official credibility when more attacks follow.

Only days ago, an IS attack left four police officers dead near the Egyptian capital. Directness and honesty may harness much needed public support in what will be a long struggle. Dishonesty will further destabilise a teetering regime.

Egypt is losing its battle against terrorism, but with a proper strategy the losses can be limited and eventual victory may yet be attainable. For this to happen, the regime must transform into a leadership with a vision - and the political gumption to execute it.

Should Sisi instead continue to focus on such important matters as the committee for morals and values, then all that is left to say is: God help us all.

Amr Khalifa is an Egyptian analyst and commentator. He has written for Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah and Arab Media and Society Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @cairo67unedited

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.