On October 24th, a jihadist attack on an army post in the northern part of the Sinai in Egypt killed 30 and injured as many. It was the deadliest such attack since the ousting of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. The administration was swift to condemn the terrorist attack, expressing its condolences and stating its support of the Egyptian government’s efforts to “counter the threat of terrorism in Egypt.”
The brief and caveat-free statement was a welcome change from past ‘balanced’ statements. However, the assertion that Egypt is under the “threat of terrorism” is inaccurate. That phrase perhaps best encapsulates the disconnect in defining terror and terrorists that separates the U.S. and Egypt and that is the root cause of sometimes frosty relations between the two countries.
The reality is that Egypt has been gripped by terror since the ousting of Mohamed Morsi in June 2013. This month alone, bombs and shootings have killed and maimed almost 100 members of the police and army, as well as citizens, in attacks that spanned Cairo, the Nile Delta and Sinai.
Yet the administration continues to make the distinction between groups it views as violent, such as Al Qaeda and ISIL and Hamas – and the Muslim Brotherhood it deems moderate. Since June 30, 2013 U.S. officials at all levels have unfailingly pressed for the inclusion of the Brotherhood in Egyptian politics, seeing in their violence a legitimate political reaction to the ousting of their president Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt makes no such distinction and with good reason. The radical groups today including Hamas, Qaeda and ISIL are all offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideology. It was after all, the organization’s founder Hassan El Banna who declared it a duty to establish sovereignty over the world.
Notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary, it would be difficult to distance the Muslim Brotherhood from the violence that has taken place in Egypt in the past 18 months. While jihadists in the Sinai operate under different names like Ansar Beit El Maqdis, in Cairo, Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations continue to be violent. University campuses are scenes of regular torchings by Brotherhood students.
Now following this latest terror attack in the Sinai, a furious population is demanding that the Egyptian government clamp down hard on violent demonstrations and perpetrators of terror attacks, including military court trials of those involved.
If the idea of military trials makes administration squeamish, it should remember the U.S.’s own (natural) reaction to the horrors of September 11.
The Patriot Act was passed into law by former President Bush in response to Americans’ anger following the September 11 attacks. It allows the U.S. government to jail Americans indefinitely without a trial. The government may also monitor conversations between attorneys and clients in federal prisons and deny lawyers to Americans accused of terrorism-related crimes. Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them. The Patriot Act makes no distinction. Any potential threat is dealt with summarily.
No one balked at the clear curtailing of civil rights. Then, in the U.S. as in Egypt now, circumstances necessitated such measures.
There is nothing called moderate-Islamist-extremism. There are in the end, only common criminals and law abiding citizens. Threats and violence are unacceptable, whatever the pretext. Terror cannot be fought selectively, singling out Al Qaeda and ISIL and ignoring Hamas, Ansar Beit el Maqdis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Until a decision is made to confront and defeat all ideologically violent groups the statement ‘war on terror’ has no teeth.
Dina Khayat is founder and chairman of an asset management company based in Egypt.