Condolences to the families of the terrorist attack victims in Minya, and the entire Egyptian people, are necessary. But this time our sympathies, no matter how heartfelt, are not enough. We must stop and ask the difficult questions and think about how to escape the spiral of violence and terrorism and ward off the specter of civil strife.
Condolences aren’t enough because while the initial groundswell of anger was genuine and widely felt, the sense of urgency soon faded in the wake of the usual round of statements and condemnations—from the church, al-Azhar, parties, syndicates, the media, and the international community.
These came with remarkable alacrity and efficiency, as if part of a well-rehearsed routine. And once the Ramadan television serials and ads started vying for attention, everything seemed to return to normal.
But unfortunately, things are not normal, and more attacks are likely follow if we don’t take a different approach to the threat of terrorism and deal more seriously with the danger of civil strife.
The crime in Minya was shocking not only because of its brutality, but because it offered definitive proof that terrorism is no longer limited to North Sinai, but has spread to Upper and Lower Egypt in recent months.
The sacrifices of the police and the army, the resources mobilized, and the state of emergency have not been enough to deter terrorism and stop it from spreading to new areas.
We must therefore courageously confront the question of why this is. Is it because of growing external support for terrorism? Is there a security lapse that demands accountability and correction? Or is it the result of changing local conditions? Or perhaps we need to reconsider our overall counterterrorism policy? Has the debate on the renewal of religious discourse come to anything concrete? and have any serious steps been taken to clean up school curricula from hate and discriminatory content? Is the state spending its resources on areas that curb resentment, poverty, and social tension? Are civil society and political institutions allowed to play their role in countering takfiri thought? Or are all these questions in fact unnecessary because our counterterrorism policies need no rethinking?
In the aftermath of every terrorist attack, it is claimed—at times by the state itself—that our problem is excessive respect for the rule of law and that states unfettered by laws and constitutions have been most successful in countering terrorism. This debate should be settled once and for all. Security and stability need not be pitted against the law and constitution. In fact, the two sides are closely correlated: the more we ignore the law and constitution, the more we fuel violence and social divisions. Are we willing to discuss this frankly and courageously, instead of wasting more time and effort avoiding the topic?
Finally, the specter of sectarian strife cannot be ignored, no matter how loath we all are to talk about it. There’s a difference between hating something and ignoring its very existence.
I’m in full agreement with those who say terrorists target Christian Egyptians specifically to inflame strife, break national ranks, show the state as incapable of protecting citizens, and spur more fear, panic, and divisions. All of that’s correct. But concluding from this that Christians are not targeted qua Christians and that we should ignore the sectarian dimension of this battle is to deny what is happening on the ground and being nourished in some hearts.
Our national unity persists, but this doesn’t mean ignoring heinous practices that threaten it. Believing in national unity doesn’t mean disregarding the discrimination—open and tacit—that we’ve grown to tolerate or the incitement that has spread all over. On the contrary, this moment requires more effort and courage, not only to stop the threat of civil strife in its tracks but to make real progress. Are we prepared to do this? Or do we want to preserve the status quo?
I’ve asked many questions here and offered no answers. That’s because I believe that answers and solutions cannot come from one individual no matter how hard he tries. They can only come from collective thought and action.
What we need today is to initiate a frank, purposeful discussion on two issues: our counterterrorism policy and our plan to defuse sectarian strife. Solutions can only be found through a broad societal discussion in which every individual feels he has a stake—not only in paying the price, but also in making decisions and plotting the path to the future.