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Egypt’s five messages to the Munich Security Conference ‎

Amr Saad Sakr , Thursday 1 Mar 2018
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The annual Munich Security Conference is considered one of the ‎most important international forums where states discuss issues ‎pertaining to both national and international security. This conference ‎is also a forum for states and regional powers to deliberate on their respective defence and military operations.

The Egyptian delegation to ‎the conference, led by foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, played ‎a prominent role in discussing both its national security issues and ‎the security issues plaguing the global sphere. ‎

In his introduction to the Munich Security Report (titled ‘To the ‎brink — and back?’), German diplomat and head of the Munich Security ‎Conference Wolfgang Ischinger wrote that “In the last year, the world has ‎gotten closer — much too close! — to the brink of a significant conflict.”

‎As such, it is an understatement to say that this conference came at a ‎critical time, as the world seems focused on both national and ‎global conflicts. Such conflicts include growing tensions between ‎Saudi Arabia and Iran, and increasing anxieties between the United ‎States and South America. As a result of the familiar ‎participants and nature of topics discussed, this conference can be ‎considered a microcosm of a UN Security Council meeting.

Both the Emir of Qatar and the Turkish prime minister had the ‎opportunity to deliver a general speech to the conference. Despite the ‎fact that Egypt did not have that privilege, it was able to participate ‎as a speaker in one of the joint sessions. Furthermore, the Egyptian ‎delegation partook in 22 meetings and working sessions with ‎ministers and security officials from a myriad of countries. These ‎meetings were concerned with issues such as defence, national ‎security and methods of counterterrorism. ‎

Egypt played a key role in one of the conference’s special counterterrorism sessions titled “Jihad after the End of the Caliphate”, which ‎was held on Saturday 17 February. In the session, Egyptian foreign ‎minister Shoukry delivered a speech that ‎summarised Egypt’s vision and plans in combating terrorism.

The ‎speech also delivered some important diplomatic messages with ‎regards to Egypt’s foreign policy on cooperating with other countries ‎in the pursuit of annihilating terrorism on both a national and ‎international level. ‎

Message One: The Separation of Islam and Terror

Unfortunately, connecting terrorism with Islam is an error that many ‎people often commit, and this is reflected in the choice of the session’s ‎title. Naturally, Egypt rejects such a fallacious view of Islam. As ‎such, the delegation insisted on separating the religion, which calls for ‎peace and security, from various groups that only use it as a banner ‎to accomplish their political goals and ambitions and to attract ‎fighters from all over the world.

Furthermore, what Daesh considers ‎jihad is contrary to peaceful jihad, which calls for peaceful individual ‎self-improvement on a personal and spiritual level. It is for this ‎reason that Daesh cannot be described as anything other than a terrorist ‎organisation and should not be compared with the dynasties of the ‎Caliphate era, which illuminated human civilisation as a whole. ‎Moreover, the fact that Daesh has many foreign fighters from non-‎Muslim backgrounds is another factor proving that the group has nothing ‎to do with Islam. ‎

The fact that this was a big portion of the speech is important, ‎because as the most populous Arab-Islamic country, Egypt has the ‎duty of defending Islam’s image on the world stage. Additionally, ‎Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the world’s most important Islamic organisation, ‎plays a large role in reforming Islamic teachings and spreading true ‎Islamic jurisprudence to prevent Muslim youth from joining ‎terrorist groups. ‎

Message Two: Condemning Countries that Aid Terrorist Groups

Egypt’s strategic policies always put it in confrontation with states ‎that neglect their responsibility to fight against terror. Its policies also ‎let it oppose states that subscribe to a double standard in the fight ‎against terror by aiding and abetting terrorist groups for political ‎gain. It is these states that on the surface condemn the acts of militant ‎groups that share the same evil ideology, while simultaneously ‎supporting their acts by assisting them.

Egyptian foreign policy also calls for the punishment of states that ‎both finance terrorist groups under the pretext of charity and ‎transport foreign fighters to the Middle East without any ‎consideration to international security and the decisions made by the ‎Security Council and the international community. ‎

To prove this point, Minister Shoukry provided the example of large ‎quantities of the explosive C4 chemical recently found in Sinai. This ‎chemical was delivered to Sinai through a network of transnational ‎terrorists who were abetted by satellite tracking and government ‎intelligence from certain states. Such an incident verifies the ‎sponsorship of certain governments and intelligence agencies of ‎terrorist groups, which in turn should be collectively condemned by ‎the international community.‎

On that note, the Egyptian delegation questioned how it was possible ‎for Daesh militants and leaders to move from Raqqa and transcend the ‎national borders of Libya, Yemen and Sinai without the help of a ‎state partner.

Moreover, Egypt criticised the European Union’s ‎decision to remove some well-known terrorist groups from its list of ‎terrorist organisations. Unfortunately, the delegation missed a perfect ‎opportunity to name states that support terrorist groups, which in ‎turn would have humiliated them in the presence of the international ‎community.

Meanwhile, other delegations took their opportunity at ‎the podium to aggressively defend their government’s policies, for ‎instance both the Israeli and Iranian delegations defended their ‎government’s engagements toward each other and the Turkish foreign minister defended his confrontation with the secretary-general of the Arab League. ‎

Message Three: Operation Sinai is Not the End of the Fight

The speech also covered Egypt’s efforts in combating terrorism ‎within its borders, and specifically the country’s ongoing ‘Operation ‎Sinai 2018,’ where both military and police forces are working to ‎purge North Sinai from terrorist groups. This ongoing war on terror ‎will not stop after military operations, since Egypt aspires to petrify ‎all factors, be it social, economic, or ideological, which encourage ‎individuals to radicalise and join such groups. It is only after ‎annihilating all root causes of terrorism that Egypt can ensure the ‎maximum protection of its civilians. ‎

Egypt also affirmed that the military victory over Daesh does not spell ‎the end of the war on terror; rather it would be a cornerstone towards ‎the goal of the total destruction of terrorist networks, lest other ‎groups take over the vacancy left by Daesh. Additionally, Egypt ‎views Daesh, Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdas and ‎Boko Haram as one in the same. Even if all these groups operate ‎under different names and operate in different geographical areas, ‎they all believe and act upon the same radical ideology.‎

Message Four: The Need for Increased International Efforts and the Trust in Egypt’s National Capabilities

The speech also emphasised Egypt’s need for increased international ‎support in its fight against terrorism. Such help is critical when ‎considering the fact that some regional neighbours not only finance ‎terrorist groups but also provide a safe haven for them. As such, a ‎concerted international action is needed to destroy terrorism on both a ‎national and international level. ‎

Additionally, the delegation restated Egypt’s policy of not getting ‎involved in another state’s affairs, especially a state that is going ‎through a civil war. As such, it encouraged the international ‎community to help rebuild states that have been ravaged by war. ‎

When questioned by the head of the session over alleged Israeli ‎military operations in Sinai, Shoukry stated that while ‎Egypt and Israel have been cooperating by sharing intelligence on ‎Sinai, only Egyptian forces are conducting military operations in the peninsula. ‎Furthermore, the state is confident that its military and police force ‎are capable of removing terrorists from Sinai. ‎

On that note, the delegation asked the European Union and the United ‎States to cooperate with Egyptian agencies and provide them with ‎intelligence so that the defeat of terrorism can be ensured in Egypt. As ‎such, the minister restated: “We pay the price, but at least give us the ‎resources.”‎

Message Five: Calling Things for What They Are

Some may argue that in the fight against terror, it is important to ‎distinguish between fundamentalist groups that commit acts of ‎violence that those that do not. However, it is a fact that ‎fundamentalism and radicalism are the natural precursors to violence ‎and terror. It is for this reason that Egypt allows neither ‎violent nor non-violent radical groups to operate on its soil, since ‎both have the same shared ideologies and goals.

Furthermore, it is ‎imperative that the international community fight against all terrorist ‎groups and avoid being partial toward or favouring certain groups. ‎Some accuse the Egyptian state of disposing of political opponents ‎by classifying them as terrorists. As such, there is a dire need for a ‎clear distinction between legitimate political activity and terrorist ‎operations. ‎

Furthermore, Cairo clearly condemns the double standard of the ‎international community in dealing with terrorist entities, whether in ‎describing them or pinpointing the true root causes of terror. It is for ‎this reason that Egypt calls for opposing those who abuse free speech ‎by inciting violence. It is also imperative to fight against those who ‎justify acts of terror and attempt to garner popular support and ‎sympathy for these organisations among the general public. ‎

Additionally, Egypt has called for an agreed definition of terrorism in ‎accordance with international law so as to prevent the use of ambiguous ‎terms such as “violent fundamentalism” or the identification of ‎terrorist movements as “rebels” or “armed groups.”‎

Throughout the conference, the delegation emphasised that the ‎fight against terror will be futile without the presence of a unified ‎international effort, for we are all in the same boat and are facing ‎the same existential threat. Egypt, with its internal stability and ‎military might, is more than eager to help its allies and play its part in ‎the war on terror. ‎

Finally, while many other nations focused part of their time on other ‎security issues such as cyber, environmental and energy security, ‎Egypt has been solely focused on counterterrorism since that is the main ‎security threat that the state is facing. ‎

*The writer is a Junior Researcher - Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence for European Integration (JMC), Freie Universität Berlin

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