Al Ahram Weekly 5/1/2017
The horrific suicide bombing of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church in the heart of Cairo, with the dozens of innocent casualties that resulted from the barbaric attack, once again stirred up argument about the efficacy of the Egyptian authorities’ strategy towards fighting terrorism since the 30 June Revolution.
Since June 2013, Egyptian authorities have utilised a timid rhetoric that can be summarised as letting friendly Western governments find out the truth for themselves about the situation in Egypt. Not only has this strategy failed for the most part, it allowed further foreign interference in Egyptian affairs backed by a biased media that is pro-Islamist and sponsored by the likes of Qatar and Turkey.
What transpired from the above is a tarnished and false image of Egypt of being an autocratic state ruled by a dictator who is oppressing “innocent Islamists” along with other Egyptians. Most of these media outlets have overlooked the revolution of 30 June 2013, the first popular revolution to overthrow an Islamist government in modern history, labelling it a coup d’Etat. Also, they overlooked the new constitution of 2014 which limits presidential tenure to a couple of four-years terms maximum, along with other achievements in Egypt during the past three years.
Regardless, the urge to inspire the people and state officials towards fighting a “total war” on terrorism in Egypt has never been more essential than now. Despite achieving a great victory over the Muslim Brotherhood and their jihadist allies across the country, the terrorist group is still able to recruit and finance operations through their cells, such as the one that took place 12 December 2016 in the bombing at St Mark’s complex in Cairo.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “total war” is a war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, one in which the accepted rules of war are disregarded. The term can be defined in military terms as mobilising the entire population or an army towards fighting and defeating a common enemy. The United States and its allies applied such a strategy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As a result of continuous terrorist threats and attacks, the Egyptian state is urged to adopt a total war strategy to combat terrorism. This strategy must and should be supervised by the president himself and includes waging war on terrorism in the social, media and diplomatic fronts.
SOCIAL WAR ON TERRORISM: The Egyptian president broke new ground with his announcement of a religious reform movement to be led by Al-Azhar in cooperation with the Egyptian intelligentsia, including writers, journalists, philosophers and thinkers. At the moment, the focus should be on the roots of the problem, which is the infectious spread of Wahhabi doctrine in Egypt at the hands of the Salafis and some Al-Azhar clerics who were affected by their Saudi counterparts in the past five decades. A policy of filtration of Wahhabi doctrine must be applied on all social levels, utilising school and university educational curricula, media outlets, social policies, laws and the political agenda to weed out Wahhabism from Egypt.
This process may take years, but it has to be a declared social policy of Egypt. While the Ministry of Religious Endowments has taken some measures to end Wahhabi clerics from delivering speeches in mosques, these efforts remain short-lived and lacklustre in effect. Accordingly, a more state-wide filtration of Wahhabism should be applied, to be replaced by the more tolerant strains of Islam such as Sufism and Al-Ashari doctrines that have been the pillars of Egyptian Muslims for over 1,000 years.
MEDIA WAR ON TERRORISM: Egypt spent billions of dollars in new arms deals with Russia, France, Germany and China to acquire new cutting edge weaponry for the Egyptian Armed Forces. These funds have been well spent to the last dollar and despite some criticisms more funds are needed in the upcoming period. The reason behind this is that Egypt has been placed within the greedy eyes of many terrorist groups along with regional powers. Egyptian army weapons purchases send a message that there is a hefty price for any nation desiring to meddle with Egypt’s security and interests. That said, the nation is losing ground in its media war waged by nations such as Turkey and Qatar through their respective media.
It is imperative to establish a new multilingual Egyptian and international TV news network supervised by the Egyptian state and owned through stock shares. The new proposed TV network would be an essential tool to counter the ferocious media war waged on Egypt recently. It is equally essential to allocate significant funds towards Egyptian media outlets that can counter the propaganda war against Egypt.
The new network would assist in clearing and correcting the tarnished image established by the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliated pro-Islamist newspapers, such as The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and of course the anti-Egypt Qatari propaganda machine Al-Jazeera. Egypt possesses the personnel, expertise, audience and funding to rival all these networks combined and stand victorious. The old tactic of allowing Western audiences to find out the truth themselves on real events in Egypt is obsolete and must be replaced by a more hands-on approach where the world hears about Egypt from real Egyptian sources, and not through Qataris, Brits, Americans, etc.
The Egyptian state has a tough task at hand, which is to defend Egypt through establishing strong media outlets in coordination with the private sector. This would ensure that the right image is presented to the world, one that accordingly garners tangible tourism, investment and economic gains. Fighting media wars with 21st century weapons is as important as defeating terrorists and clearing their hideouts by conventional arms. The once leading Egyptian media is now far behind others in the region and is not utilising a fraction of its potential. Restoring Egypt’s status as powerhouse in the region, a goal is adopted by President Al-Sisi, requires revamping of all media related policies and tools to counter the media attack Egypt is under.
DIPLOMATIC WAR ON TERRORISM: Terrorist groups in the Middle East are mostly funded through intelligence agencies or regimes that back them for geopolitical gains and leverage. They are similar in effect to ancient assassins, only they are more devastating in effect since they can target and wreak havoc in entire countries. Accordingly, exposing all regimes that support these terrorists, whether financially, diplomatically or militarily, is imperative in Egypt’s long term plans for stabilisation. Diplomatic and economic pressure must be exerted openly on any regime that endorses, directly or indirectly, terrorist groups in Egypt. The lacklustre press statements from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are hardly enough to counter the lies spread about Egypt.
Similarly, the Egyptian foreign ministry is still attempting to appear cordial, diplomatic or politically correct against those who display blatant animosity towards Egyptians and Egypt. The problem remains that Egypt’s enemies are still treated as friends in diplomatic circles and never feel the brunt or consequences of their hostile actions against Egypt. While Egypt extends the hand of friendship to the entire world, including former enemies such as Israel, Egypt cannot be seen to show any sign of weakness or any consideration towards those who openly antagonise the country.
The Turkish and Qatari regimes must be exposed to the international community and pressured not to harbour terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organisations who fled Egypt and find refuge there. Changing Egypt’s policies towards these countries and applying economic pressure should start forthwith until either regime change takes place in these countries or these regimes officially denounce their former acts of aggression with practical steps while delivering reparations. After all, there are no permanent allies or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
Wars are never won in a day but are won battle after battle on multiple fronts. It is high time to fight all these wars simultaneously through a clear total war strategy devised by the Egyptian authorities to ensure that Egypt prevails through this vicious war.
Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly