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