With every incident of terrorism or attack on the armed forces or police in recent years, all Egyptians, with the exception of a few malicious gloaters, unfailingly express their anger at such criminal acts, their appreciation for martyrs’ sacrifices and solidarity with their families, and their insistence on closing ranks behind the state and its institutions in their war on terrorism. The same happened last week, following the Western Desert battle, in which policemen gave their lives for the nation.
This united front expresses not only respect and admiration for the sacrifices of martyrs, but the sense that we must stand in solidarity against a vicious enemy, preserving internal unity to avoid divisions and fractiousness. It also reflects a recognition of the need to set aside ordinary differences in circumstances that allow for no political or media grandstanding.
Preserving this national alliance is one of our most important weapons in this battle, since one objective of any terrorist act is to divide ranks and foment social discord. The repeated recent attacks on Egyptian churches, for example, have sought to inflate sectarian strife and hatred between Egyptians.
But we cannot maintain a united front in the face of terrorism by simply repeating the same old slogans or consoling the families of the martyrs in their time of tribulation. That is the least we must all do, but facing this looming danger also requires the state to listen to the public’s legitimate questions about what happened and respond with information that does not breach national security. The state must reassure an angry public that the reasons for the incident will be assessed to determine if there was any dereliction or failure on the part of state bodies, a gap in information gathering, a qualitative development in the terrorist organizations we are fighting, or some other circumstances that can be disclosed.
At the same time, there is a need to reconsider the political management of the battle against terrorism. I don’t mean that we should look for channels by which to understand or negotiate with the terrorist gangs threatening the country’s future; as much as I believe in building bridges with various political and social trends, any understanding with those who take up arms to assassinate police and attack churches is unacceptable. No, what I mean is political management that preserves unity and builds a genuine, unified front behind the state. It is this—not fleeting rage and zeal—that will act to again open up the public sphere to political forces and parties deeply concerned about the nation’s security and safety, though they may hold contrary or dissident opinions. The continued exclusion and smearing of anyone who expresses a different opinion only serves the interest of the enemies of the nation, for it divides our internal, unified front.
The battle in the Western Desert also exposed the decline and disarray of the state-owned and affiliated media, which responded to the incident with contradictory statements, the hasty publication of inaccurate news, and a keen desire to deflect all responsibility from any state body. If the media is an important tool in Egypt’s battle against terrorism, a media fully controlled from above is not the best way to win over public opinion. When media loses its credibility and independence, it also loses its ability to reach and engage with the public. Inevitably, the public then turns away from official media and starts searching for alternative sources of information, some of which are more objective and truthful and some of which exploit the gap to disseminate misinformation.
May God have mercy on the martyrs and give their families patience. Let us honor their sacrifices and courage by correcting mistakes and cooperating to preserve our unified ranks, so that we can emerge from this battle victorious and united.