Analysis: National security threats after the 30 June Revolution

Mona Keshta, Tuesday 4 Jul 2023

A new and comprehensive approach to national security was formulated after the 30 June Revolution that aimed to neutralise risks within and beyond the country’s borders.

 

Egypt formulated its comprehensive approach to national security following the 30 June Revolution in 2013, driven by the multitude of risks that threatened its national security both within and beyond its borders.

Foremost among these dangers was the terrorist threat, which imposed significant human and material costs on Egypt in its endeavour to restore the necessary security and stability and reinforce the pillars of the Egyptian state. These risks necessitated a comprehensive approach by the government at all levels to confront existing threats and employ a proactive strategy to mitigate any future risks that could arise within a regional and international landscape characterised by intense dynamism.

When discussing the concept of national security and its determinants for the post-30 June governments, we find that this concept has been characterised by its inclusiveness, encompassing the preservation of all dimensions of the Egyptian state’s capabilities, including the economic, human, social, military, security, and geopolitical dimensions.

The 30 June Revolution occurred within a complex context characterised by multiple sources of threat to Egyptian national security at various strategic levels. These originated internally within Egypt, particularly in the aftermath of the ousting of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood regime, leading to waves of violence and terrorism targeting the Egyptian nation-state and all segments of the Egyptian people.

These events were also a response to the political changes accompanying the revolution and were considered by some research circles to be part of the so-called “fourth wave” of terrorist threats in the Middle East, coinciding with the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria and its establishment of a self-proclaimed state, along with its expansion into various geographical spaces.

The sources of threats to Egypt’s national security were not limited to internal factors, however. Externally, the regional environment surrounding Egypt was fraught with tensions on two main levels.

The first involved direct threats represented by neighbouring countries. In the west, there were threats associated with the absence of a Libyan nation-state and the escalating activities of non-state armed actors. In the south, there were threats linked to former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir’s Islamist regime in Sudan and its positions opposing Egypt on several issues, particularly the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Additionally, the Sudanese battlefield environment witnessed an expansion in the presence of militias and armed groups.

In the east, the situation was not significantly different, given the presence of ongoing and renewed threats associated with Israel and certain armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

The second level of external threats encompassed threats related to the Eastern Mediterranean region, especially due to the provocative practices of some of its countries.

Both the Arab and African regions constituted the primary sources of threats to Egyptian national security, with threats in the Arab region stemming from the aftermath of the events in 2010 and 2011, particularly the collapse of nation-states in several countries, including Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The African sphere carried various threats, with the foremost being the water security threat related to the GERD, as well as civil wars and the spread of terrorist groups.

Amidst these multiple threats, the Egyptian state adopted a comprehensive approach to deal with this complex reality. This approach focused on preserving Egypt’s national security in its various dimensions, while also engaging in diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving these issues. This was done in the light of the constants of Egyptian and Arab national security.

The dimensions of the Egyptian approach in this regard can be elucidated as follows.

Rebuilding military strength: Over the past decade, Egypt has experienced a significant leap in the building of its military power and armaments.

This has been evident in the notable arms deals made in various military domains, including land, air, and sea. The most prominent of these deals have involved the acquisition of advanced aircraft carriers, frigates, submarines, and fighter jets. Furthermore, there has been a surge in the construction and rehabilitation of military bases, such as the establishment of the Southern Fleet Command and the construction of the Mohamed Naguib Military Base.

As a testament to the progress made in rebuilding its military strength, Egypt has ranked at the forefront of Arab armies in recent years. It is worth noting that this direction was driven by the recognition of the Egyptian political leadership, following the events of the 30 June Revolution in 2013, that rebuilding Egyptian military power is a key tool for addressing all threats to national security.

Economic and development efforts: Within its comprehensive approach to addressing threats to Egyptian national security, the political leadership after the 30 June Revolution realised that the economic and developmental dimension is one of the most important pillars in confronting these threats.

In the light of this, the state and its various institutions have sought to revitalise the Egyptian economy by initiating a qualitative leap in various sectors, forming the backbone of the Egyptian economy’s development. The significance of this approach is linked to its ability to build societal frameworks and contexts that are resilient against various threats, particularly the terrorist danger.

Engagement in crisis resolution: At the forefront of the Egyptian strategic approach to addressing threats to its national security after 30 June has been the pursuit of regional crisis resolution through an approach that some research circles have termed the “Al-Sisi Doctrine”.

This approach has focused on several key determinants, including the priority of preserving the concept of the nation-state and its institutions, asserting the state’s sovereignty over all facets of the geographical region, countering non-state armed actors under the principle of the state monopoly of weapons, ensuring the achievement of the people’s interests, and rejecting external interventions in the internal affairs of Arab states.

Building balanced relations with the world powers: Among the threats faced by Egyptian national security in the post-30 June era was the existence of challenges in international dealings as a result of the changes Egypt witnessed following the revolution.

After 30 June, the state adopted a balanced foreign policy that emphasised the reaffirmation of its foreign-policy constants, particularly in rejecting foreign interventions in its internal affairs, especially interventions characterised by the politicisation of certain issues. It also prioritised support for the nation-state in the region.

Moreover, the Egyptian state played a vital role in resolving numerous regional crises, enhancing its strategic and geopolitical weight. Egyptian diplomacy successfully regained its central role in traditional foreign political spheres, such as the African and Arab circles, while also establishing new spheres, including the Asian and Eastern Mediterranean circles.

Importantly, Egypt managed to build balanced relations with major powers around the world, which strengthened its ability to address external challenges in the post-30 June era and further bolstered Egyptian national security.

BATTLE AGAINST TERRORISM

The phenomenon of terrorism stood at the forefront of the security threats that jeopardised the stability and security of the Egyptian state in the aftermath of the events that unfolded in the country after 2011.

The intensity of the terrorist danger escalated following the 30 June Revolution in 2013, which overthrew the rule of the terrorist organisation the Muslim Brotherhood and exposed its criminal schemes aimed at undermining Egypt’s security and stability. Since then, the country has witnessed a series of unprecedented and ferocious terrorist incidents, surpassing the severity and devastation of those experienced in the 1980s and 1990s perpetrated by terrorist organisations such as the Islamic Group and the Jihad Organisation.

The Muslim Brotherhood spared no effort in waging a fierce war against the pillars and institutions of the Egyptian state, as well as against all segments of the Egyptian people. Consequently, the terrorist threat has been escalating day by day, becoming the primary menace to all dimensions of Egypt’s national security after 30 June 2013.

The wave of terrorist activities witnessed in the country was characterised by several notable features, including:

Escalation of terrorist attacks: The language of terrorism manifested the enormity and magnitude of the terrorist threat Egypt faced following the 30 June Revolution.

The frequency of terrorist attacks began to rise, with approximately 222 terrorist incidents recorded in 2014. Among the most prominent was the Karm Al-Qawadis ambush in North Sinai, resulting in the killing of 30 soldiers and the injury of 31. This attack was claimed by the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis organisation.

The peak of terrorist attacks occurred in 2015, with about 594 incidents, including the coordinated attacks launched by terrorist elements on 1 July targeting several military and security bases in Sheikh Zuweid. The Egyptian Armed Forces successfully confronted these elements, inflicting heavy losses.

In the years that followed 2015, the recorded numbers of terrorist attacks noticeably declined, leading Egypt to declare victory in the war against terrorism, thanks to the efforts of the security forces engaged in counterterrorism operations. These efforts effectively curtailed the terrorist threat, striking at the organisational structure of extremist elements, including their hideouts, tunnels, weapon caches, and other logistical equipment seized from terrorist operatives.

Diversification of terrorist organisations: The terrorist wave witnessed in Egypt following the 30 June Revolution was characterised by diversity, multiplicity, and an expansion of the geographical scope of terrorist activities.

It took on new forms, combining traditional and non-traditional patterns of terrorism, such as terrorist cells comprised of small groups ranging from three to eight individuals. Examples include the Helwan Brigades and other entities that emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Hasm Movement and the Revolutionary Brigade.

The geographical range of terrorist operations also extended beyond North Sinai, reaching into the heart of the Nile Valley and Delta provinces. It is worth mentioning that the distribution of these groups and terrorist elements during this period was marked by extreme dynamism, both in terms of their ideological framework and the tactics employed in executing their terrorist attacks.

Moreover, the motivations that facilitated the terrorist activities were not confined solely to internal dimensions. They also had regional and international dimensions, as some of the active terrorist groups and elements in Egypt established networks with counterparts in neighbouring countries.

Selection of high-value targets: The nature of the targeted attacks that Egypt witnessed in the aftermath of 2013 reveals that these attacks were not limited to the security forces such as the military and the police. They also extended to include qualitative targets that terrorist elements exploited to create a state of confusion and panic among civilians, using them in their propaganda efforts.

These targets included civilians, foreign interests in the country, certain consulates, and foreign nationals. In addition, these terrorist organisations waged an “economic war” to weaken the Egyptian economy by targeting tourist destinations, such as the attack on the Karnak Temple in Luxor in mid-June 2017. They also targeted companies, economic institutions, and some private business projects, as well as the state’s infrastructure, including electricity pylons, water pipes, and government headquarters.

The targeting of senior officials, judges, and the courts was also part of the terrorist elements’ list of objectives. This reached the point of targeting the convoy of attorney-general Hisham Barakat on 29 June 2015 while it was passing through the Heliopolis district. The attack resulted in his assasination, injuries to some members of his security team, and the destruction of more than 15 vehicles in the vicinity of the explosion.

Places of worship, both churches and mosques, were not spared from these bloody attacks. The terrorist elements sought to target them due to the potential sectarian division that could result from such attacks. Moreover, it ensured that terrorist groups would target a larger number of people during their gatherings to practise religious rituals and ceremonies.

Since 2013, several churches have been targeted in terrorist attacks that have led to the killing and injury of hundreds of citizens, including the explosion at the Boutroseya Church attached to St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya on 11 December 2016. Additionally, two explosions occurred on 9 April 2017, targeting the Mar Girgis Church in Tanta in Gharbiya governorate and St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria.

On 24 November of the same year, the Rawda Mosque in Bir Al-Abd city in North Sinai was targeted, resulting in the death of about 305 people and the injury of 128 others.

In response to the magnitude and diversity of the terrorist threat faced by Egypt in the aftermath of 2013, the country adopted a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism. This approach went beyond addressing the security dimensions of the phenomenon and encompassed all its social, economic, cultural, educational, developmental, and underlying ideological aspects.

Starting with the constitutional commitment to counter terrorism in all its forms and track its sources of funding, the Egyptian legislature formulated a comprehensive package of legislation aligned with Egypt’s regional and international obligations in the fight against terrorism.

Egyptian counterterrorism efforts were also manifested through military strikes conducted by anti-terrorism forces against extremist elements, such as the Right of the Martyr Operation and Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018. These Operations successfully contained the terrorist elements, particularly in North Sinai.

Alongside security efforts, development initiatives also played a significant role in Egypt’s counterterrorism strategy. All state institutions dedicated themselves to implementing a wide range of mega-projects and developmental investments across various sectors.

In the intellectual confrontation with terrorist ideology, Egypt focused on formulating a comprehensive approach to refuting extremist views, takfiri fatwas (Islamic edicts), and distorted interpretations. These misguided ideas were propagated by terrorist organisations through religious institutions, particularly the Church, the Ministry of Waqf (Religious Endowments), and Al-Azhar.

Egypt’s approach to such threats over the past nine years has yielded significant achievements. It has succeeded in striking at the erroneous intellectual foundations that serve as a basis for terrorist groups and elements. It has also disrupted the logistical infrastructure they utilise in carrying out their operations, while drying up the financial resources of these groups.

It is worth noting that Egypt’s approach in its war on terrorism has extended beyond local efforts. It has been accompanied by parallel and similar efforts with regional and international partners, embodying the principle repeatedly emphasised by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi that “Egypt is fighting the battle against terrorism alone, with the strength of its people, on behalf of the entire region and the world.”

SUCCESS OF EGYPT’S APPROACH

The success of the Egyptian state in its war on terrorism is reflected in a range of indicators, which can be highlighted as follows.

Repeal of the state of emergency: President Al-Sisi’s announcement in October 2021 to end the extension of the state of emergency imposed on the country in 2017 is indicative of the success of the post-30 June state in defeating the terrorist threat.

Egypt possesses comprehensive capabilities that qualify it to confront the challenges facing its national security internally and externally, establishing a stable security situation throughout the country.

International acclaim for Egypt’s efforts in combating terrorism: The Egyptian experience in countering the terrorist threat has been praised by numerous international reports and indicators concerned with the phenomenon of terrorism, all of which acknowledge the effectiveness and success of Egyptian efforts in addressing international terrorism.

For example, a report issued in February 2022 by the UN Security Council focusing on the threat posed by IS to international peace and security indicated a decline in the activities of the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis organisation in Egypt. It pointed out that since 2019, no terrorist attacks have been attributed to IS or Al-Qaeda in Egypt and that the two organisations have not claimed responsibility for any attacks.

The report attributed this to counterterrorism operations that have weakened the morale of the organisation’s members and reinforced the impression that the group was receding, in addition to public investments in infrastructure, transportation, and housing in Sinai.

Decline in Egypt’s ranking in the Global Terrorism Index: Starting in 2018, Egypt was removed from the list of the top 10 countries most affected by terrorism on the Global Terrorism Index published by international think tank the Institute for Economics and Peace.

The index provides a comprehensive summary of major global trends and patterns in terrorism annually. Over the past six years, Egypt’s ranking has continued to decline, reaching the 16th position in the 10th edition of the index for 2023, down from the 15th position it held in the 2022 ranking.

Egypt’s joint presidency of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF): On 4 May 2023, Egypt assumed the joint presidency, alongside the European Union, of the Global Counterterrorism Forum for a two-year term in 2023-2025.

This is indicative of the international community’s confidence in Egypt’s dedicated efforts to combat and address the phenomenon of terrorism regionally and globally. It is based on the country’s historical expertise in countering this phenomenon over previous decades, especially during the past nine years, during which the Egyptian comprehensive approach has become a leading model in combating terrorist organisations and has been emulated by many countries worldwide.

POTENTIAL THREATS TO EGYPTIAN NATIONAL SECURITY

In recent years, Egypt has succeeded in containing all threats to its national security, particularly the terrorist threat, and has dealt with them in a balanced manner that ensures both the prevention of these threats and the maximisation of strategic gains.

However, this does not imply the eradication of these threats, especially in the light of the current regional and international environment characterised by fluidity and volatility. It can be said that there are still existing and potential threats that the Egyptian state faces in the near and medium term.

Despite the success of Egypt’s experience in curtailing and neutralising terrorist activity, this does not mean its complete eradication. This is due to several key factors.

 First, there is the nature of the terrorist phenomenon itself, which is complex and evolving. Historical evidence has demonstrated that terrorist organisations have the ability to adapt and adjust to security strikes, and the phenomenon has become globalised in recent decades.

Second, there is the persistent presence of various terrorist organisations, notably IS and Al-Qaeda, in geographical areas within the scope of Egyptian national security. For example, the coastal and desert regions in Africa have become logistical arenas for terrorist activities.

Third, changes have occurred in the operational tactics of these organisations as a response to their recent defeats. For instance, they have increasingly relied on cyberspace as an alternative low-cost platform to carry out their propaganda, promote their extremist ideology, and attract new recruits. This danger has been exacerbated by the successful exploitation of various forms of social media by some terrorist organisations to incite their supporters to carry out terrorist attacks in different geographical regions, resembling the lone-wolf model.

Lastly, there is the issue of foreign terrorist fighters and the risks they pose to the security and stability of countries in the region, particularly concerning the ticking time bomb of the camps housing tens of thousands of the families of foreign fighters in northeast Syria, notably the Al-Hol Camp.

The increasing concerns and warnings about the potential terrorist threat within these camps, as IS seeks to create tensions between different factions within them to facilitate the release of detained elements, foreshadow the emergence of new generations of terrorism from these camps, posing a threat to the Arab region and the world as a whole.

On a related note, Egyptian national security, as well as Arab national security, has been greatly affected by global variables and the sharp and profound transformations witnessed by the international system in recent years.

In the light of the rise of non-traditional security threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, along with the significant economic, political, security, and strategic implications accompanying these events, Egyptian national security remains vulnerable to various threats, some of which are economic and others security-related.

This necessitates action on the part of decision-makers to activate the role of relevant early warning institutions and build clear strategies to deal with these serious and pressing ramifications.

 

*The writer is a researcher at the Terrorism and Armed Conflicts Unit at the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).

*This article also appears in the summer edition of Democracy magazine, published by Al-Ahram.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Search Keywords:
Short link: