The Friday 13 November terrorist attack in Paris, which left some 130 civilians dead and 352 injured, left the world reeling of shock and dismay. The highly coordinated terrorist attacks on the streets of the city were carried by three teams of gunmen and suicide bombers. In a typical fiery-language statement dotted with Qur’anic verses, glorifying the attack and promising more to come, Daesh claimed responsibility for the heinous deed.
Not only Paris; Beirut and Egypt too
In Egypt, the news generated widespread anguish. On both the official and popular levels, Egyptians poured sympathy and expressed solidarity with the French; Egyptian Facebook users added the French flag to their profile pictures in sympathy.
President Sisi sent a condolence message to his French counterpart, as did the Council of Egypt’s Churches and countless other Egyptian institutions.
The evening of Sunday 15 November saw the Giza pyramids wear in light the colours of the French, Russian, Lebanese and Egyptian flags, in compassion with the victims of the Paris attacks, the 31 October Russian plane crash over Sinai in which 224 passengers and crew lost their lives, and the 150 Lebanese injured in the Burj al-Barajna bombing. The illumination alternated between all four flags. Around the world, several buildings—including San Francisco’s Blue Hall, Sydney’s Opera House and Mexico City’s senate building—were lit in the tri-colour of the French flag.
Watani’s Marina al-Qiss Barsoum was on hand to report on a candlelight vigil held by members of the NGOs Egyptian Women for Change and Nour al-Huda in front of the French embassy in Cairo, in honour of the Paris attack victims. The women said they will hold a similar vigil next Friday 20 November in front of the Lebanese embassy in Cairo to commemorate the 43 who lost their lives in the Beirut suicide bombing at al-Husayniyeh commercial street in Burj al-Barajneh, a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in Beirut, on Thursday 12 November. The attack, which also left 240 injured, was carried out by two suicide bombers 150 metres and 5 minutes apart. Here again, Daesh claimed responsibility.
Coincidentally, Russia announced on 17 November that Islamic terrorism was behind the downing of the Russian plane in Sinai. Daesh had belatedly claimed responsibility in non-typical declarations.
First-hand experience with Islamism
Should the terrorist attacks by the fundamentalist Islamist Daesh have come as a surprise? Hardly. At least, not for Egyptians.
Egypt is predominantly Muslim, yet—or maybe because of that—Egyptians have a deep understanding of the machinations of Islamism. At one point in their modern history, in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, the people of Egypt decided to give the Islamists—who insisted they would lead the country to prosperity through following the teachings of Allah; their famous motto being “Islam is the answer, the Qur’an our Constitution”—a chance to govern the country. That was in 2012 when Muhammad Mursi, a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB), was elected president albeit by a very thin margin. Islamist rule attempted to impose on the country a fundamental version of Islam which the normally pious, moderate Egyptians could not stomach. Realising they stood to lose once and for all their Egyptianness, freedom, and chance of democracy, the people of Egypt rebelled against the MB in 2013 and, with the support of the military, overthrew the Islamists and instated a secular State. Their profound understanding of Islamist thought indicated to Egyptians that they would have to pay a hefty price for ridding themselves of the MB, and they chose to do so rather than remain under Islamist rule. And pay they did; Islamist terrorism has been plaguing Egypt inside and outside the country ever since. The MB has been declared by court order a terrorist organisation for the hardened hatred culture embedded in its thought and for the violence it propagates; scholars who research Islamist groups are unanimous that they were all born out of the womb of the MB.
Egypt never desisted or held back warning of the dire threat of Islamist terrorism. The Arab Spring which since 2010 had spread through the Middle East left in its wake a trail of ruin and destruction, and Islamist power. Worse, it allowed the age-old sectarian differences among the people of the region to boil unchecked. The ‘creative chaos’ the US had propagated and its New Middle East Project appeared to be materialising. And Islamist terrorist groups thrived.
Egyptian warnings against terrorism and fundamentalist Islamic thought fell on deaf ears. President Sisi unfailingly voiced these warnings in local and international venues. He called for religious reform and an end to terrorist Islamic thought. An endeavour with that objective was fairly recently launched by the venerable al-Azhar, the 10th century institution and university which is today the topmost authority in the world on Sunni Islam. But it remains to be seen when this endeavour would bear fruit.
The Western World appeared neither responsive nor sympathetic to Egypt’s warnings. Yet these warnings were not new; they go back to the 1990s and 2000s when the then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak alerted the US on several occasions to Islamist threat. In his book The Egyptian Intelligence service: A History of Mukhabarat, the American Owen L. Sirrs tells of how Mubarak had warned the CIA well in advance of 9/11 but the warning was ignored because it supposedly lacked concrete detail. Sirrs writes that there was a distinct sharing of intelligence between the US and Egypt, with Egypt especially warning against the Islamic Group and its affiliates. The question that begs an answer, however, is not why the warnings went unheeded but why, despite the warnings, the US went on and made an alliance with the MB as far back as 2005?
Beyond Daesh capability
Many western observers see that the alliance of the West with extremist groups and their exploitation to fulfil specific purposes is nothing new. Alain Chouet who is former head of the French intelligence subdivision tracking terrorist movements, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, repeatedly warned of the perils of Islamic fundamentalism. Last July, he described the war against terrorism as a ploy to conceal the military alliance between western governments and the financial sponsors of jihad (Islamic holy war). In reply to a question by the press on Islamic thought and those who sponsor it such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, he replied that while the West was in confrontation with terrorist groups in the Middle East, Somalia, and Nigeria, it was still in alliance with those who have sponsored terrorism throughout some 30 years.
Egyptian political analyst and researcher Soliman Shafiq believes an obvious thread links the recent terrorist attacks. “These operations far surpass the capacity of Daesh,” Mr Shafiq says, “and could only have been planned by the mighty intelligence apparatuses that belong to States. More than being mere terrorist operations, they represent an endeavour to influence events in Syria and the outcome of the Vienna talks. It is no coincidence that they come in the aftermath of the Russian military intervention in Syria against Daesh and Islamist forces.”
Strategic expert General Hamdy Bekheit agrees absolutely with Mr Shafiq that the hands of intelligence apparatuses are obvious in the recent terrorist attacks. Egypt especially, General Bekheit says, has been targeted because it has defeated the US and Israeli New Middle East and Transfer projects to provide Gaza Palestinians with a home in an Islamic emirate in Sinai.
Comparison with Egypt
“The Paris attacks prove that terrorism is a global scourge,” says General Fady Habashy, former chief of the criminal investigation apparatus. “Security loopholes allow offenders to acquire arms and explosives and to design and execute attacks. France especially is vulnerable because it is home to countless sleeping cells of Islamist terrorists.
“The French decision to declare a state of emergency and close borders is understandable, since French homegrown Islamists and others incoming via Schengen have been behind the recent attack. When Egypt, however, took similar action to defend herself against terrorist threats, she was harshly criticised by the West and by international human rights organisations.”
According to Atef Abdel-Latif, member of the South Sinai and Marsa Alam Investors, the Paris attacks will create a climate of insecurity for investors the world over. They prove that no country is immune to terrorism, and that the scourge cannot be defeated by one State on its own but requires collaboration of the entire international community.
“France is among the world’s greatest democracies, a land where freedoms thrive,” Dr Adbel-Latif says. “Yet this did not guard it against the spread of terrorist thought. This is a key reason why Egypt’s President Sisi has been calling for religious reform. Without battling the thought that sows and nurtures terrorism, security measures alone will not work.
“Despite Egyptian warnings against terrorism, the West has embraced terrorists such as the MB, and assured them safe haven to propagate their thought and activities. Egyptians warned the West it will some day drink the bitter cup of terrorism; sadly, this is taking place now.”
Islamism is nonetheless alive and kicking. Turkey’s Erdogan welcomed the G20 leaders last week with flowers presented by little girls and boys in Ottoman dress, and pens that carried the slogan of the Islamic caliphate.
18 November 2015