The terrorist suicide bombings in Brussels last Tuesday, 22 March, left blood curdling, angry sentiments in the hearts of people all over the world. The double attack which hit Zaventum Airport and little over an hour later Maelbeek metro station left more than 34 dead and some 200 injured. Daesh, known also as Islamic State (IS), claimed responsibility for the attack. Brussels airport cancelled all flights and the Belgian capital was put on lockdown, with public transport suspended and people told to stay in their homes and offices. An extra 225 soldiers were deployed to the city to beef up security; and security at key locations and transport hubs was also stepped up across the UK, Netherlands, France and Germany. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel condemned the attacks, saying it was “a black day” for the nation.
In Cairo, the presidency strongly denounced the Brussels bombings. In a statement that declared its rejection of all attempts to terrorise peaceful civilians, Egypt’s presidency announced it fully supports Belgium during these difficult times, and expressed heartfelt condolences to the victims’ families and wishes of speedy recovery for the injured.
The presidency stressed that the recurrence of such incidents in various places in the world confirms the dire need for the international community to coordinate attempts to battle terrorism. This, the statement said, had to be done through a comprehensive perspective that aims at terminating all terrorist organisations that endorse extremist ideologies, and fighting them wherever they may be so as to ensure they do not expand elsewhere.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry called upon all Egyptians in Brussels to exercise utmost caution in all their moves, and to avoid airports and trains except for essential travel. It also requested them to contact the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels in case of any danger, and to assure their families at home of their safety.
The topmost Sunni Islamic institution in the world, the Cairo-based al-Azhar whose history goes as far back as the 10th century, condemned what it called the “heinous” Brussels bombings, stressing that they went against tolerant Islamic teachings.
Pope Tawadros sent a message of condolence to King Philippe of Belgium in which he expressed, on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church, deep sympathy with the Belgian people. He said the Church was praying for the victims and injured; also for “those who committed these inhuman crimes, so that the Lord would change their hearts and lead them away from hatred.” Life is a gift of God, the Pope said, and terminating it is a sin against the Divine.
On the unofficial level, though, the news rocked Egypt which had just witnessed a terrorist mortar attack that left 18 soldiers dead at a security checkpoint in Arish, North Sinai, just two days earlier.
But Egyptians in their wide majority could not help making parallels between what happened in Brussels and the Russian plane crash which occurred near the Sinai resort of Sharm al-Sheikh last October. Back then, and even before any investigation could be launched, the West decided it was a terrorist attack through some primitive bomb smuggled by terrorists in the luggage. An alleged claim of responsibility by Daesh was not issued till over a week later, was lame and absolutely uncharacteristic in the language used. Security at Sharm al-Sheikh Airport came under heavy attack from the West, and the resort was pronounced not safe for tourists. It did not help that other sporadic terrorist attacks that targeted the police and military occurred; Egypt was constantly accused of sloppy security performance and, at the same time, poor human rights record; two contradictory charges since stronger security evidently calls for some sacrifice of freedoms. Scathing criticism was directed against Egypt by the western world, and against its so-called ‘failed’ State by rights activists inside the country. Until today Egypt is paying a heavy price for these accusations since tourism, a major foreign currency earner in a country that badly needs a boost in its economy, has crashed.
Predictably, the first comments on the Brussels bombings appeared on social media platforms. Nader Noureddin, Professor of water resources at Cairo University, wrote on his Facebook page addressing the West: “Your support of Daesh has backfired. You thought they would honour their agreement with you, but you forgot that the only thing they know is hatred.”
Ibrahim al-Garhy, a prominent media figure with a Facebook page that boasts over a million followers, posted the comment: “Brussels authorities ask citizens not to go down into the streets and not to use their phones. This is in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the European Union. Now wait a minute, can you hear anyone say it is a failed State? No one? No one is claiming security laxity? Are you sure? Okay then.”
Mohamed Hussein, 40, studied Pharmacy in Mansoura University in Egypt and now works in San Diego. He posted the sarcastic comments: “Two bombings in Brussels; one in the heart of the airport. Oh, the security guard was playing Candy Crush and didn’t observe his task. How could the bombs have found their way into the airport and the luggage belt? Did the Belgian policeman look the other way because he was discreetly handed a 20 Euro note [this in reference to an Englishman who said that the security guard at Sharm al-Sheikh airport would do anything if given a EGP20 note]?” Mr Hussein mocked the arguments of Egyptian activists who claim that terrorism thrives as a result of rampant social injustice; he asked if this was what happened in Belgium: “The injustice in wealth distribution, the red tape, bribery, and favouritism widespread in Belgium has bred terrorists.”
An apt comparison was posted by Mahmoud Farouk, area manager of Canon, Europe. “The borders of Belgium are as follows: 620km common with France, 167km with Germany, 148km with Luxembourg, and 450km with The Netherlands. The area of Belgium is 33,990 square kilometres. Compare this with Egypt’s 1000km border with terror-ridden Libya and 1000km with Sudan, and an area of a million square metres, then talk to me about security laxity in Egypt. Long live Egypt, my friend!”
A tweet by the young professional Raghda ElSaeed again made the comparison between how the West assesses terrorist attacks on its own turf and those that occur in Egypt. “In the West it is termed an incident; in Egypt it is branded a failure. In the West, imposing a ban on news is a security measure; in Egypt it is restricting freedom. In the West, cutting off communications is professionalism in dealing with a security threat; in Egypt it is disabling the people.”
Watani had a stroll in a few of Cairo’s overpopulated districts to sound people there on what they thought of the Brussels bombings. The better educated men and women there thought this was the result of “opening your doors to terrorists under the pretext of freedoms and human rights. Not surprisingly, they turn and stab you in the back.”
Boulos Ishaq who owns a print shop in the Cairo district of al-Khusous said that the only outcome of such terrorist acts is that they strengthen the position of the far right. “It is extremism in another form,” Mr Ishaq said. “We’re bound to see more extremism of all sorts in the future. And it’s us the people who’ll pay the price.” He concluded by cursing hatred, extremism, racism, and the resultant terrorism.
Other less educated people who formed the majority on the streets in Khusous, however, appeared not bothered. For them, it was just another terrorist attack. “Terrorism has no home,” was a common phrase. Yes, for sure. This is a fact, a heartbreaking fact. When such atrocious terrorist attacks as the ones in Brussels fail to shock any more, it is ample reason to grieve and lament.
23 March 2016