Egypt’s vision for combating terrorism is rooted in the state’s firm view that terrorist groups, despite their differences, are of equal threat and that their ideas are based in the same ideology that incites violence, killing and terrorising people.
Egypt believes extremism in all its forms is the ideological umbrella that terrorist groups rely on in spreading their subversive messages and recruiting supporters through false religious interpretations. Egypt is working hard with a clear vision and effective policies to eliminate this phenomenon, not only through military means, but also from all ideological, organisational and financial angles, since terrorism is a serious threat to the primary human right of the right to life.
Egypt strongly believes in the importance of global cooperation to confront this phenomenon since it is a trans-border trend, meaning that if terrorism surfaces in one country this does not mean it will be contained within its borders. Rather, it will grow beyond those borders and beyond even that continent.
Egypt is focused on boosting cooperation and sharing its expertise in regional and international organisations and anti-terrorism forums. It also monitors international decisions on combating terrorism, coordinates with national agencies to implement decisions across the country within domestic laws and trains African security and judicial institutions to raise their capabilities to fight terrorism. It bolsters opportunities to build and maintain peace in countries suffering from wars and other conflicts that are fertile ground for terrorist groups.
Egypt also works on drying up the sources of funds for terrorism on the bilateral and international levels in cooperation with international partners and in accordance with UN resolutions and on the regional level through its membership of regional and international organisations such as the Arab League, the African Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the UN and the International Coalition for Combating Terrorism. It closely monitors the efforts and outcomes of the partnerships between Egypt and its global partners to share best practices in combating terrorism, its sources of funding, and its recruiting of human resources.
As part of the drive to combat extremist ideology and promote a moderate religious discourse, Egyptian religious institutions, highly reputable around the world and having great credibility with Muslims everywhere, such as Al-Azhar and the Dar Al-Iftaa (the Religious Edicts Foundation), play a key role in confronting radical ideology on the national, regional and international stage through initiatives aiming to promote religion’s moderate and noble messages and dismantle the ideological foundations of the terrorist groups.
They also refute the radicalism promoted by these groups through social media, and their work is not limited to the Arabic language, but also works in the English, French, German, Spanish, Persian, Urdu, Chinese and African languages, so that these institutions can better deliver their message to the 193 countries around the world.
Egypt is also working on combating Islamophobia, which aggravates the problem because it is another form of extremism that terrorist groups utilise in order to ingrain a siege mentality in their supporters and plant the belief that the world is against them and their religion, seemingly confirming their extremist claims that the world is the enemy of Islam. Egypt always reiterates the need to combat Islamophobia on the international stage, and it is working on the domestic scene to create an economic and social environment that rejects extremist ideology.
Egypt wants to address the conditions that lead to the spread of terrorism, including discrimination based on ethnic, national or religious affiliations, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalisation and the lack of good governance.
The government, along with the broad participation of civil society and in partnership with international development partners, has thus launched a sustainable development strategy until 2030 to provide a decent life for all citizens. It has also approved a comprehensive economic reform plan that raised the country’s economic growth from 4.4 per cent to 5.6 per cent between 2014 and 2019.
The government has been building landmark labour-intensive projects that reduced Egypt’s unemployment rate from 13.4 per cent in 2014 to 7.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2019.
As part of its commitment to social justice and social solidarity in order to guarantee a life of dignity for all citizens and to reduce poverty, the government has implemented various programmes and projects, notably increasing the pensions of civil servants and public and private-sector employees from LE103.1 billion to LE175 billion between 2014 and 2019, a 41 per cent increase that benefits some 10 million Egyptians.
It has also launched the Solidarity and Dignity programmes to provide a social-security net for the poor, the old, the disabled, those unable to work, and orphans, and these benefit another ten million citizens.
It has launched an unconditional cash-support programme that benefits 1.4 million families and provides academic scholarships to prevent children from such families from dropping out of school. It has also provided $929 million in funds for development projects in the poorest areas, together with $550 million from the World Bank for public housing and school-meal programmes to cover 11 million children.
The government has also multiplied its efforts to provide adequate, safe and healthy housing for all citizens and is working on providing a variety of units for all income levels, as well as renovating housing for the most-needy families. It has provided 333,000 new housing units for low-income families since 2015, with token down-payments and rent, that benefit some three million citizens, and provided 74,651 units for middle-income families. The government plans to build 395,000 more units for low-income families by 2020.
The social-housing programme for low and middle-income families provided 210,806 soft loans between 2014 and 2018 to enable such families to own their own units. The state has also adopted a comprehensive national plan to eliminate informal-housing areas, whereby the residents of such areas are given the choice to either move to other neighbourhoods or accept financial compensation or temporary alternative housing or take a lump sum to find other housing until their neighbourhood is developed. They could also be given a housing unit in the neighbourhood after the work is done. Around 90 such areas around the country are being developed, with a total of 92,455 housing units.
With regards to healthcare, between 2015 and 2018 some 20 new hospitals, medical centres and clinics were built in 20 governorates, and 38 existing hospitals, medical centres and clinics were refurbished. The number of families treated at state health-insurance hospitals increased, with more poor patients given access to treatments. A comprehensive health-insurance law has been issued, and the system will gradually become compulsory for all citizens. At the same time, the standard and efficiency of medical facilities will be raised.
In September 2018, the government’s campaign of “100 million in Good Health” was launched to eradicate the Hepatitis C virus and detect non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. In February 2019, another free campaign was launched to detect and treat obesity, stunting and anaemia among pupils under the age of 12.
WOMEN AND CHILDREN:
For women, the 2015 parliamentary elections ushered in 90 female MPs, bringing the number of female members of parliament to 15.5 per cent of the seats and up from 1.2 per cent in 2012.
Since 2018, there have been eight female ministers in charge of 25 per cent of cabinet portfolios, and for the first time ever two women have been appointed as regional governors. Women occupy 27 per cent of deputy governor positions, as well as preside over district and local councils and are mayors in some villages. Women occupy 25 per cent of leadership positions in the Central Bank of Egypt and 12 per cent of the seats on the boards of banks. They are also present in the judiciary. The president’s national security adviser is a woman.
With regards to the economic empowerment of women, equal-opportunity units have been created in all ministries to ensure equality in the workplace and prevent discriminatory practices against women. Legal-awareness programmes on the rights of working women have also been introduced, as well as programmes to confront violence against women. Three national strategies regarding women were launched in 2015: the National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women; the National Strategy to Combat Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the National Strategy to Combat Early Marriage. Tougher penalties on FGM have also been adopted.
On the rights of children and the disabled, the government in partnership with NGOs has launched the National Strategy for Childhood and Motherhood 2017-2023, which takes an integrated-development approach to provide better services, raise the quality of life for children and focus on protecting the health, development, education and participation of children in public life.
Special attention has been given to services for the children of poor families, and 2018 was declared the Year of the Disabled. The law guarantees the effective participation of the disabled in all aspects of life and grants special benefits to them at government offices and education services. The new civil service law allocated five per cent of government jobs to the disabled, reduced their working hours by one hour every day, and increased their paid vacation time. A health strategy for the disabled was adopted in partnership with NGOs to provide medical care at reasonable fees.
With regards to the freedom of belief, a law has been issued on the construction and renovation of churches in order to protect the freedom of belief and regulate the rules for acquiring a license for religious buildings, removing previous violations and adjusting the status of houses of worship. By July 2019, the status of 1,021 churches and service buildings had been adjusted.
Egypt is also seeking to develop its military capabilities in combating terrorism. The army is carrying out an intense campaign to fight terrorism, and Egypt believes in the importance of firm military action to prevent the regional expansion of terrorism and to protect civilians from the savage violence of terrorists.
In order to showcase the effectiveness of these operations, Egypt is working closely with international partners to bolster anti-terrorism efforts, and it continues to do its utmost to combat terrorism despite regional challenges that directly impact on the country’s security and chronic crises in the Middle East that have been causing the quantitative and qualitative evolution of terrorism, along with the proliferation of extremist ideology, civil wars and waves of mass displacement.
There are also challenges regarding security and the right of all Egyptians to life as a basic human right and the protection of political rights. After the Revolutions of 2011 and 2013, Egypt faced serious security challenges and terrorist attacks that caused the significant destruction of life and property. It has exerted great efforts over recent years to restore security and political stability through a clear and cooperative vision for combating terrorism, and it has developed policies, plans and mechanisms in order to so while protecting political and civil rights and existing constitutional and legal guarantees that will also be appropriately developed.
There remains a crucial problem facing the fight against terrorism, however, which is the fact that countries are funding terrorist currents in order to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. There is also the dilemma of agreeing on a single definition of terrorism. Some actions may be labelled as terrorist when they are not, such as armed resistance by national-liberation movements with the goal of independence and self-determination, for example.
Agreeing on a single definition of international terrorism is crucial to the international community because only then can international bodies adopt a single legal position. The latter would also allow the theoretical criteria defining the phenomenon of terrorism to be aligned and to support countries on the frontlines of fighting terrorism in protecting their citizens’ right to life. It would mobilise genuine efforts to end armed conflicts and benefit from available regional expertise in building and maintaining peace.
*The writer is member of the advisory board of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.