Contextualising the story of terror

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 24 Dec 2020

A recently established research center is starting an initiative to issue monthly reports to register terror incidents in and around Egypt

North Sinai
A file photo of Egyptian forces in North Sinai (Ahram)
Towards the end of January 2021, the National Center for Studies (NCS) will issue its first monthly report that aims at monitoring and contextualizing every single terror attack that could be taking place in and/or around Egypt.
The initiative of the newly established center is designed to provide a monthly updated database about the activities of big and small terror groups within the region of the Middle East as well as North and East Africa and its impact on the situation in Egypt.
“Clearly, Egypt is not the only target for terror groups and clearly a proper examination of the situation in Egypt cannot be done without a close look at the wider context,” said Ahmed El-Shehaby, the director of the NCS.
El-Shehaby himself had served government posts that allowed him to have a close insight on the activities of terror groups, those that execute local operations and those with links to larger terror groups like Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
He argued that often enough it is hard to disconnect any of the major terror attacks that had hit Egypt in the past few years from the schemes of larger terror groups around the region.
“Egypt has come a long way in combating terror and has managed to put an end to the big attacks that targeted the country but it is still important to keep a close eye on all developments not just to count the attacks because what is more significant than the number of the attacks, small or big, is the context in which these attacks are happening,” said El-Shehaby.
He also said that by carefully analyzing the context, the NCS reports will in fact be “monitoring all possible evolutions of the dynamics of terror operations”.
El-Shehaby added that anything that will go down the monthly report would be about real acts of violence. “The report is not designed to politicise anything or to unduly qualify anything as an act of terror”.
The monthly report will strictly aim to “carefully dissect the cases of terror that could happen in Egypt.” 
“It is important to decide exactly where we have terror cells and to understand if these cells are connected to one another,” he added.
El-Shehaby argued that while the “case of Sinai” is very important to keep an eye on, it is as equally important to keep an eye on possible roads “that lead to Sinai”. "What happens in Sinai does not start in Sinai,” he said.
Mohamed Abdel-Wahed, a political advisor to the NCS, also has previous government experience on the file.
Abdel-Wahed is convinced that it is also important to keep a close eye on monitoring the motivations for terror attacks. 
“I think in the world of today we are not at all just talking about ideological motivations but also political motivations for big acts of violence; in fact I think the political motivations are more influential today than the ideological motivations that were a bit more dominant before,” he said.
Abdel-Wahed argued that “regional context” is a very “complicated matter that merits close examination." 
“When we speak of the region, we are not only speaking of North Africa or the Middle East; we are also speaking of East Africa and of the Sahel and Sahara region,” he said.
“To carefully examine what might happen in Egypt, and I think we have gone a long way in containing big terror attacks, it is important to monitor the connections because in today’s world we were in fact dealing with cross-border terror,” he added.
With an accumulation of monthly reports that count the attacks and qualify them, the NCS, according to El-Shehaby, is hoping “to draw a clear picture of the state of terror to help all those concerned to make the most informed decision on the way forward in the anti-terror management”.
El-Shehaby said that the work of the NCS in issuing a monthly report on the cases of terror will not include policy recommendations. He argues that “this is not the objective; the objective is to monitor and share findings."
Moreover, El-Shehaby said that “at least at the onset," the report will not go very far in examining any possible association between state policies and terror attacks.
“Terror is never justified and in any case by defining the areas that are most hit by terror attacks on a regular basis it becomes possible for the state-making bodies to draw their own conclusions; our work is designed to serve the purpose of scientific research,” he said.
Towards the end of 2021, El-Shehaby said, the NCS will be issuing an annual report that will carry some general recommendations on the way forward for anti-terror policies.
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