Terrorism reaches a mosque

November 25, 2017

The flood of messages of condolences and condemnation from around the world following Friday’s unprecedented terrorist assault on a mosque in Egypt reflects both sorrow for the victims and anger at the culprits. The at least 235 worshippers who were killed and 109 injured by gunmen in North Sinai during Friday prayers is thought to be the deadliest terrorist attack in Egyptian history. It was extremely well coordinated. After improvised explosive devices were detonated inside the mosque, gunmen sprayed bullets on people fleeing and also fired on ambulances.

The death toll is shocking. The area in which the ambush happened had not witnessed anything on this scale before. North Sinai is admittedly one of the world’s most dangerous places, receiving that notoriety following the pledge of allegiance that the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis terrorist group gave to its big brother Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS), which has not claimed responsibility but which appears to be behind the attack. However, what started out as the sabotaging of power stations, gas pipelines and other vital installations morphed into the killing of police and soldiers, then metastasized to the murder of civilians in the big cities, including in churches and now a mosque. Friday’s massacre illustrates all too well that terrorism does not differentiate between peoples or their religion or their nationalities. It knows no national boundaries. It thus follows that since terrorism is not restricted to a single country it cannot be confronted by one country alone.

And just as one country cannot realize security singlehandedly in the face of terrorism, a comprehensive approach is needed to confront terrorism. In a speech to the nation Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi promised revenge and the use of “brute force” to ensure stability and security. Already, a military operation is underway combing the area of the attack. The response is on the ground and will reportedly not stop until the elimination of everyone involved in the attack.

While vengeance is rightly sought, President El-Sisi himself knows this is not the entire solution. Time and again he has asserted that reducing terrorism solutions in Sinai and Egypt in general to only military and security components, as vital and necessary as these are, falls short of a more holistic approach to the crisis. Any viable and lasting solution necessitates efforts to improve people’s standard of living and the quality of their lives as well as safeguard their well-being. Brute force is the short-term solution. To fight a terrorist group or a branch here and there without addressing the roots of the problem is like trying to remedy the symptoms of an illness rather than treat the disease itself.

Egypt’s government is promoting a more all-inclusive approach, one that treats terrorist groups as part of a larger whole that needs to be confronted comprehensively. To make this system of security measures complete, Egypt must choke off terrorist religious rhetoric through the reform of education, religious leadership and culture, and promote enlightened religious discourse.

Unfortunately, some Middle Eastern countries are home to different terrorist groups, each of which poses a very real and present danger to the security, unity and social cohesion of these countries. But such domestic dangers are not the only problem. These dangers are not confined by national boundaries, and they can spill over and spread to other countries in the region and abroad.

The national security of a nation is inseparable from regional and international security. These three levels overlap and constantly impact each other. It is, therefore, inconceivable that the fight against terrorism should be confined to the national level.

Terrorism is a global phenomenon and the response to it should be commensurate with this reality.

November 25, 2017
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