The string of terrorist crimes that killed 129 and injured more than 400 people in Paris last Friday will have a profound, far-reaching impact.
I suspect it will be a turning point in the future of the Arab region and its relations with the EU, no less significant than the repercussions of the September 11th attacks on the whole world in 2001.
The consequences will be acute not only because of the number of civilian victims, but also because it signals a qualitative shift in the battle between terrorism cloaked in the mantle of Islam and countries of the EU.
The attack took the battle to the heart of a major European capital; it targeted not armies or regular forces but ordinary citizens; and its execution goes beyond the ability of a few isolated individuals, requiring backing by a diffuse organization with resources, funding, and support within Europe itself.
More seriously, the crime is repeatable in other European capitals no matter what sort of precautionary security measures are taken.
Although it’s still early to know the full ramifications, it’s necessary to think about possible forthcoming changes and the role of Arab societies in the coming period.
In the short term, I don’t think it’s possible for Europe to continue with the confused policies of the last few years on the Islamic State and its various allies and their growing influence in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
European nations have condemned and decried the crimes of Daesh and offered anemic support to factions opposing it, while being willing to recognize its areas of influence and even buy oil produced by wells under its control.
I expect the European public will demand clearer, more decisive policies, either for military engagement or total disengagement, letting the various factions fight it out and then dealing with the victor.
EU countries will also doubtlessly reconsider their acceptance of migrants from the Arab world and close entry points to the European continent, both land and sea.
Where differences in individual state policies and visions were prominent prior to the attack, Europe may now close ranks behind stricter policies that are less concerned with the humanitarian and economic conditions that spur millions to leave their homes in search of a refuge and alternate future.
And economically, the Arab region will pay a huge price in terms of anticipated investments, financial flows, and feeder industries. Countries where tourism is a major source of revenue, foreign currency, and employment—like Egypt—can only prepare for a difficult period and put in place policies and programs that maintain and support trained workers and tourist assets by any means, instead of leaving them to collapse.
We are on the threshold of a new era whose shape and consequences we cannot yet foresee.
But this doesn’t mean the Arab world must stand idly by as a passive observer, waiting for the EU and its allies to determine their stance on Daesh and its supporters. We must seize the initiative and realize that resisting this extremism and terrorism is our duty and mission.
No one else can do it, because bombing positions and leveling fortifications only works with regular armies, not with a cancerous organization that can hide, maneuver, and adapt. Moreover, we must understand that fighting terrorism is not an issue for governments or armies alone, but a cause for Arab societies as a whole.
The social, economic, and cultural aspects of this battle are too complex and fraught to be resolved by military force or security approaches alone, without addressing the conditions that produced such extremism.
And finally, we must realise that the ultimate, decisive victory over Daesh and its ilk can only be achieved by championing the values and principles that these terrorist groups wish to undermine and erase. Holding fast to the law, justice, and citizens’ rights, rejecting all forms of discrimination, and upholding legal and social justice—this is the only path to victory.
Europe can close its borders, send in aircraft carriers, and bomb Syrian, Libyan, and Iraqi cities. But terrorism will only be defeated by the will of Arab peoples and their determination to realize justice, social justice, and civic equality.
The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.
This article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Tuesday, 17 November.