Egypt’s battle against terrorism is far from over; anyone who thinks we are close to wiping out terrorism had better think again. Terrorism is a devil which, like a venomous snake, lurks in the dark to attack its victim then runs back to its hideaway. The difference is huge between military confrontation and battling terrorism. The former is governed by strategy and tactics, combat skills and adequate weaponry, and eventually ends with the emergence of definite winners and losers. The latter, however, is waged against an enemy whose location and arming are undefined, and the time and place of strikes are open-ended. It is a vicious war that relies on shock tactics, and is ruled by neither values nor ethics; terrorism is only after creating devastation, horror and harm to innocent victims.
It was not so long ago when we in Egypt lived in the smugness of our confidence that we were safe from the terrorism that thrived in other countries in the region. It seemed unthinkable that we would ourselves have to swallow the full menu of terrorist strikes, the bombings and assassinations, on a near-daily basis; and experience the bitter aftertaste of death, terror and devastation. Once the mass revolution of Egyptians on 30 June 2013 achieved its goal of overthrowing the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood regime that had come to power following the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, the chief demand voiced by the masses was to regain the safety and security we had lost to the Arab Spring. Obviously, this was a demand easier said than done. In order to achieve that, all State institutions must join forces in a battle against terrorism. Our Armed Forces and security apparatuses have long been engaged in fighting the terrorists, yet our streets and public spaces suffer security gaps that make it possible for terrorists to sneak in and strike. Many have questioned why such gaps are left unchecked, and demanded that they should be filled so that terrorism would be choked out.
Open public spaces such as unwalled parks, garbage lots, outdoor markets are difficult to control and thus make easy terrorist targets. But it should be possible to control closed facilities such as railway and underground metro stations to ensure that not a gap is left through which a terrorist operation may be executed. It is difficult to accept or justify recurrent news of canisters or bombs that explode in railway or underground stations, or even news of the discovery and deactivation of bombs that were placed inside train carriages. Even though railway and underground stations are supposedly secured with passage gates, metal detectors, and bloodhounds, the terrorists somehow sneak their bombs in. Such incidents point to gross negligence; those responsible should be brought to justice.
The same slack security reigns in private or public facilities that are not open to the masses. Security measures in such sites are substandard and rudimentary, a mere formality that makes one wonder at how easy it would be for a terrorist to sneak in. A case in point is the security check at car parks. A vehicle is only allowed in after a trained sniffer dog makes the round of the car, and after the trunk is opened, swiftly ‘checked’ then closed. I often wondered as I underwent this check why no one bothered to inspect my belongings in the rear trunk, or the passenger compartment where anything could be smuggled under the car seats for instance. In the face of such feeble security efforts, we can only pray for Divine protection.
The danger is that the ineffective security might whet the terrorists’ appetite to target schools, theatres, sports facilities or malls. If we are truly unable to handle the situation ourselves, I believe we should put aside all sensitivities and seek foreign expertise in the security field. We must own that we are new to combating terrorism, and possess little awareness or expertise on that front. It does not help that we are plagued with the gross nationwide ailment of a chronic absence of vigilance and rigour in all we do.
23 November 2014